Chapter 2. Country Reports: Middle East and North Africa Overview
THE MIDDLE EAST AND NORTH AFRICA
The Middle East and North Africa remained a primary theater for terrorist activity throughout 2015. During the year, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) continued to occupy large areas of Iraq and Syria while ISIL branches – particularly those in Libya, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen – persisted in fomenting sectarian strife and conducting attacks in the region. Al-Qa’ida (AQ) and its affiliates continued to seek and take advantage of opportunities to conduct attacks amidst the fragile political and security climate across the region, including in Yemen, Syria, and North Africa.
In North Africa, the Libya conflict between the then internationally-recognized government in Tobruk and the Tripoli-based faction enabled an expansion of violent extremist groups, including the holding of territory by the ISIL branch in Libya. While the UN sought to facilitate the formation of a Government of National Accord, porous borders, continued proliferation of weapons, and weak security institutions provided an environment where terrorists could operate with impunity. Libya continued to serve as a key operational and transit hub for foreign terrorist fighters traveling to and from Syria and Iraq. ISIL-affiliated terrorists conducted several attacks in Tunisia, most notably at the Bardo Museum in March, at a hotel in Sousse in June, and on a Presidential Guard bus in downtown Tunis in November. The perpetrators of all three attacks had been trained in Libya. The al-Qa'ida in the Islamic Maghreb- (AQIM-) affiliated Okba Ibn Nafie group continued attacks on security personnel and civilians in the mountainous west of Tunis. Within Algeria, AQIM and the ISIL-affiliated Jund al-Khilafah in Algeria (JAK-A) attacked Algerian targets and Western interests. Algerian government efforts appeared to significantly degrade at least JAK-A’s capabilities during 2015.
ISIL’s core continued to operate in Iraq and Syria, from which it projected its “caliphate.” ISIL maintained a formidable force in Iraq and Syria, including thousands of foreign terrorist fighters from more than 100 countries, while Raqqa continued to serve as ISIL’s administrative capital and its headquarters for most external plotting operations. Since May 2015, however, ISIL has not had a significant battlefield victory in either country. For more than a year, the United States has led a coalition of 66 countries and two international organizations to cut off ISIL’s financing, disrupt their plots, counter its narrative, and stop the flow of foreign terrorist fighters. Nearly 10,000 air strikes have targeted ISIL’s key leaders, heavy weapons, oil tankers, training camps, and its economic infrastructure. Ramadi was the first major complex operation to be completed entirely by retrained Iraqi security forces and local tribal partners. Other key Iraqi cities liberated in 2015 included the Sunni city of Tikrit, the oil infrastructure hub of Bayji, and Sinjar, where ISIL murdered hundreds of Yazidis and enslaved thousands more. In Syria, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), with air support from the Coalition, have taken back a key route connecting Raqqa and Mosul; Tishreen, which connects Raqqa to ISIL’s lifeline on the Turkish border; and Tel Abyad, which used to be ISIL’s primary point of access to the outside world.
In Yemen, al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and ISIL’s Yemen branch capitalized on the ongoing conflict between the Government of Yemen, supported by the Saudi-led coalition, and the Houthi-led opposition to gain deeper inroads across much of the country. AQAP expanded its safe haven by seizing several towns, including the port city of Mukalla, which has given it access to increased financial resources. Despite losing a number of senior leaders during 2015, the group was able to increase its recruiting and expand its safe haven in Yemen. ISIL’s affiliate conducted hundreds of attacks during the year, primarily against Houthi forces and Zaydi Shia mosques, in a bid to stoke sectarian tensions similar to ISIL’s tactics in Iraq and Syria. Although the Yemeni government has reestablished a presence in Aden, a large security vacuum persisted that both ISIL and AQAP have taken advantage of to strengthen their footholds and forces inside the country.
Egypt faced an increase in terrorist activity, threats, and security challenges. Hundreds of civilians and scores of security forces (police and military) were killed by terrorists. The terrorist attacks have been varied – high profile (the October 31 crash of a Metrojet airliner, purportedly as the result of an ISIL-Sinai attack), Egyptian government targets (the June 29 Assassination of Prosecutor General Barakat), and foreign targets (the July 22 beheading of a Croatian national). ISIL Sinai Province (ISIL-SP) continued its terrorist campaign, predominantly in northern Sinai. A group calling itself Islamic State-Egypt has begun to claim responsibility for terrorist attacks in the rest of the country, notably the June 20 failed attack against foreign tourists in Luxor and the July 11 bombing of the Italian Consulate in Cairo.
Israel again faced terrorist threats from Palestinian terrorists from Gaza and the West Bank. Since October 1, a series of lone-offender attacks by Palestinians in Gaza, Israel, Jerusalem, and the West Bank has increased tensions between Israel and the Palestinians. Israeli and Palestinian security forces continued coordination in an effort to mitigate the ongoing violence. Gaza-based Palestinian terrorist organizations continued rocket and mortar attacks into Israeli territory, and multiple terrorist attacks were launched along Israel’s security barrier with Gaza. Israeli counterterrorism officials reported that Hamas and other Gaza terrorists made significant advances in their military capabilities. Hizballah, in Lebanon and Syria, and ISIL and AQ affiliates all presented continued threats to Israel. Terrorists continued their arms and dual-use smuggling efforts through the Sinai into Gaza via tunnels, although the Government of Egypt undertook efforts to prevent such smuggling from its side, which Israeli officials welcomed.
In 2015, Iran’s state sponsorship of terrorism worldwide remained undiminished through the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF), its Ministry of Intelligence and Security, and Tehran’s ally Hizballah, which remained a significant threat to the stability of Lebanon and the broader region. [See Chapter 3, State Sponsors on Terrorism, for more information about Iranian activities.]
Overview: Algeria remained an important counterterrorism partner. The Government of Algeria has a long history of fighting terrorism and has devoted considerable resources to advancing its security agenda. Military forces and multiple law enforcement, intelligence, and security services with delineated responsibilities addressed counterterrorism, counter-intelligence, investigations, border security, and crisis response. These included the various branches of the Joint Staff; the army; National Gendarmerie (GN); the Border Guards; the Department of Intelligence and Security (DRS) under the Ministry of National Defense (MND); and the national police, or General Directorate of National Security (DGSN), under the Ministry of Interior.
Al-Qa'ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the Mali-based Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), al-Murabitoun, and Jund al-Khilafah in Algeria (JAK-A, Soldiers of the Caliphate in Algeria), were active terrorist threats within Algeria and along its borders. These groups aspired to establish their interpretations of Islamic law in the region and to attack Algerian security services, local government targets, and Western interests. AQIM continued attacks using IEDs, bombings, false roadblocks, and ambushes. Although criminal groups engaged in kidnapping, there were no reports of kidnappings executed by terrorist groups in 2015. The Algerian government maintained a strict “no concessions” policy with regard to individuals or groups holding its citizens hostage.
JAK-A, which has sworn allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), claimed responsibility for a few, sporadic attacks, although efforts by the Algerian government appeared to have significantly limited the group’s ability to operate in 2015. During large-scale operations in May, the Algerian military reportedly killed at least 21 JAK-A fighters in the Boumerdes region. Four other Algerian factions have issued statements claiming allegiance to ISIL, but there was little indication that these groups contained more than a small number of fighters.
Algeria continued an aggressive campaign to eliminate all terrorist activity, and sustained its policing efforts to thwart terrorist activity in the capital and other major urban centers. Military forces and security services, primarily the GN under the MND, conducted regular search operations for terrorists in the mountainous Kabylie area east of Algiers, and in the expansive desert regions in the south.
Rising regional political and security instability contributed to the terrorist threat to Algeria. Violent extremist groups and criminal networks in the Sahel attempted to operate around Algeria’s nearly 4,000 miles of borders. Continuing instability in Libya, terrorist groups operating in Tunisia, fragile peace accord implementation in Mali, as well as human and narcotics trafficking, were significant external threats that made regional coordination on border security a necessity. The Algerian government frequently cited links between terrorist activity, organized crime, and narco-traffickers in the Maghreb and the Sahel.
In part in response to concerns regarding online radicalization, the President published a decree on October 8, establishing an anti-cybercrime agency, the National Preventative Organ for the Fight against Infractions Linked to Information and Communication Technology. This entity, with members across the law enforcement and national defense establishment over which the Minister of Justice presides, is responsible for monitoring electronic communication to detect terrorist violations of the law, subversive acts, and breaches of national security. It has not been operating long enough to determine its effectiveness.
Algerian government officials and Muslim religious and political leaders publicly condemned ISIL and criticized acts of violence committed in the name of Islam.
Algerian government officials have declined to join the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL, citing its “cardinal principle” of non-intervention in sovereign nations’ affairs. Nevertheless, Algeria actively supported the effort to counter ISIL in other ways, such as intelligence sharing, imam training, capacity-building programs with neighboring states, and participation in the White House Countering Violent Extremism Summit process.
2015 Terrorist Incidents: Open sources reported more than 62 terrorist acts in 2015. Attacks included:
- On June 20, an IED killed an Algerian colonel and two soldiers near Beni Fedala in the Batna province.
- On July 6, at least two policemen were injured in a shootout in downtown Bouira that started when a patrol of the Mobile Brigade of the Judicial Police was attacked by a terrorist group.
- On July 17, AQIM ambushed Algerian soldiers while on patrol in the province of Ain Defla. AQIM claimed on July 18 to have killed 14 soldiers in the attack, but a press statement from the Algerian Ministry of Defense on July 19 indicated nine soldiers were killed and two others wounded.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: In November, Algeria’s Minister of Justice presented to Parliament a bill to add provisions to the criminal code to prohibit traveling to other countries to take part in armed conflict, and providing financing or organizing travel operations to other countries for the purpose of committing or inciting terrorist acts, including by using information and communication technologies, or by any other means. This law is intended to implement UN Security Council Resolutions 2178 (2014) and 2199 (2015), and the UN 1267/1989/2253 ISIL (Da’esh) and al-Qa’ida sanctions regime.
The Algerian government continued its decade-long push to increase the strength of its military and security forces and to professionalize and modernize them. The 130,000 members of the Gendarmerie, which performs police functions outside of urban areas under the auspices of the Ministry of National Defense, and the approximately 210,000 members of the DGSN, or national police, organized under the Ministry of Interior, share general responsibility for maintaining law and order. During 2015, the government restructured the Département du Renseignement et de la Sécurité (DRS), the Algerian intelligence service. As a result, the Algerian Central Service for Anti-Terrorism (SCAAT), formerly known as the Service for Operational Coordination and Antiterrorist Intelligence (SCORAT), was placed directly under the control of the Vice Minister of Defense.
Public information announcements from the MND provided timely reporting on incidents during which MND forces captured or eliminated terrorists and seized equipment, arms, ammunition caches, and drugs. MND reported it captured or killed 157 terrorists in 2015 as a result of operations.
The Government of Algeria underscored that border security remained a top priority to guard against the infiltration of terrorists from neighboring countries. Official and private media outlets reported on measures to increase border security, including closed military border areas, new observer posts in the east, reinforced protection of energy installations, additional permanent facilities for border control management, new aerial-based surveillance technologies, upgrades to communication systems, and additional troops deployed on the borders with Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, and Tunisia. Since the start of the Arab Spring, Algeria has reportedly deployed at least 75,000 security forces to monitor the country’s southern and eastern borders, including at least 50,000 reportedly along the Libyan border. Algerian officials reported that they have provided training and equipment to border security officials in Tunisia to ensure effective cross-border communication. Border security measures included new joint checkpoints and patrols along the frontiers, information sharing, and training and equipment programs.
The Government of Algeria closely monitored passenger manifests for inbound and outbound flights and scrutinizes travel documents of visitors, but does not collect biometric information. Algeria uses a computerized fingerprint identification system, undertakes training, and is equipped to recognize fraudulent documents. The Government of Algeria used INTERPOL channels, alerts, and diffusion notices to stay informed on suspicious travelers at land, air, and maritime borders.
Human rights organizations asserted there has been overuse of pretrial detention by judges and magistrates. On December 6, Parliament approved changes to the Algerian Code of Criminal Procedure limiting the use of police custody and pretrial detention and allowing persons in police custody to receive a visit from a lawyer.
To enhance its capacity to deal effectively with security challenges within its borders and defend against threats to regional stability, Algerian law enforcement agencies participated in the Antiterrorism Assistance (ATA) Program and other training offered by third countries as well as by the International Institute for Justice and the Rule of Law (IIJ). Algerian participants attended and hosted numerous workshops conducted under the aegis of the Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF). Algerian law-enforcement personnel participated in ATA, GCTF, and IIJ programs that were designed to enhance investigative and screening capacities, improve border security, prevent terrorist transit or operations, and build response capacity to critical incidents. The U.S. Department of Justice’s International Criminal Investigative Training Assistance Program concentrated on capacity-focused consultations and mentoring in forensics, border security, criminal investigation, and evidence collection at crime scenes.
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Algeria is a member of the Middle East and North Africa Financial Action Task Force, a Financial Action Task Force (FATF)-style regional body. Its financial intelligence unit, known as the Financial Intelligence Processing Unit (CTRF), is a member of the Egmont Group. The banking system in Algeria is underdeveloped and tightly monitored by Algerian authorities. Processes within the banking system are bureaucratic and require several checks at various points of the money transfer process. Given an over-regulated business environment, an informal cash-based economy with an annual value of roughly US $30 to 40 billion has developed. In recent years, Government of Algeria authorities have increased efforts to close down illegal markets and reopen them legally, although these illegal markets often open in a different location after a few weeks. The large scale of the informal market makes its eradication extremely difficult. A network of informants and Algerian undercover officers monitored significant unregulated cash transactions, but given the informal nature of the system, it was difficult to adequately police.
During the year, Algeria enacted reforms to establish an anti-money laundering/countering the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) regime that provides for the freezing and seizure of terrorist assets without delay, which the government was in the process of implementing at year’s end. In February, the CTRF and the Bank of Algeria promulgated mandatory guidelines on customer due diligence. Also in February, Parliament passed – and the President signed – a statute broadening the criminal offense of terrorism financing and providing a framework for the seizure of terrorist funds. In May, the Prime Minister issued an executive decree addressing the seizure of terrorist funds. Later in May, the Minister of Finance issued ministerial orders providing further detail for such seizures. In September, the CTRF and the Bank of Algeria each issued further guidelines that closed potential loopholes and provided more details and procedural protections in connection with seizure mechanisms.
On October 23, the FATF removed Algeria from its Public Statement, and moved it to the list denoting a jurisdiction that is improving its compliance with international standards on AML/CFT. The FATF noted that Algeria had established the necessary legal and regulatory framework to meet the commitments established in the action plan to address deficiencies in its CFT regime.
For further information on money laundering and financial crimes, see the 2016 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), Volume II, Money Laundering and Financial Crimes: http://www.state.gov/j/inl/rls/nrcrpt/index.htm.
Countering Violent Extremism: The Government of Algeria underscored the value of state oversight for religious education, including the training of imams, the content of prayers, and credentialing imams in a way that promotes tolerance and sensitizes the religious leaders to the risks of using religion for political objectives. The Algerian government appoints, trains, and pays the salaries of imams. The penal code outlines punishments, including fines and prison sentences, for anyone other than a government-designated imam who preaches in a mosque. The Algerian government monitors mosques for possible security-related offenses and prohibits the use of mosques as public meeting places outside of regular prayer hours. Government officials publicly affirm Algeria’s Sunni Maliki tradition of Islam, which upholds the values of tolerance, brotherhood, and acceptance of others.
The Ministry of Religious Affairs (MRA) warns Algerians against foreign violent extremist trends (ISIL, Wahhabism) and heeding fatwas (judicial rulings) that originate outside Algeria. In 2015, Algeria continued working to create an Academy of Fatwas in Algeria. The MRA identified 50 imams from different parts of the country to receive advanced training. In November, the MRA announced plans to establish an “observatory” in 2016, to guard against untrained imams, importation of values “alien” to Algeria’s religious tradition, and the promotion of sectarianism and terrorism.
Viewing broad-based socioeconomic opportunity as a way to prevent radicalization to violence, Algerian government programs targeted youth and the unemployed by providing tuition, job placements, and paid internships to university students. The Algerian government recruited repentant terrorists to become voices in the community to prevent a drift toward radicalism.
The Government of Algeria aired content through Radio Quran aimed at countering religious extremism, specifically violent forms of Salafism. Mini lectures to “defuse” radical religious discourse aired regularly, and the most relevant lectures were broadcast two to three times per week.
The MND released communiques from its website on terrorists captured or eliminated, indicating where the operation occurred and where arms were recovered, with no further commentary or analysis. The MND excluded group affiliation to deny terrorists publicity. Algerian leaders publicly condemned terrorism in televised addresses and statements to the press. Posting photographs and videos of terrorist acts on the internet is prohibited. MND officials and the MND website reminded citizens to verify their sources and statistics related to security matters with the MND communications office.
Under the 2006 Charter for Peace and National Reconciliation, Algeria offers amnesty to former terrorists who laid down their weapons and disavowed violence. Exceptions are made for perpetrators of particularly egregious acts, such as rape, murder, and bombings. The Charter works through offices located nationwide to extend judicial assistance and social and job reintegration measures to repentant terrorists, victims of terrorism, and families of terrorists. Some 9,000 terrorists have been pardoned under the Charter since its inception.
International and Regional Cooperation: In 2015, Algeria continued strong diplomatic and mediation efforts to promote regional peace and security. On the diplomatic front, it facilitated an inclusive national dialogue for Malian groups and regional partners that resulted in the signing of a Mali peace accord. In coordination with the UN, Algeria hosted talks among Libyan groups and stakeholders to help reach a political solution. Algeria also participated in various Sahel-Saharan fora to discuss development and security policies, the evolution of regional terrorism, and donor coordination; these included the Nouakchott Process on the Enhancement of Security Cooperation, the Operationalization of the African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA), and the EU Strategy for Security and Development in the Sahel. However, Algeria and Morocco’s political disagreement over the Western Sahara remained an impediment to bilateral and regional counterterrorism cooperation.
Algeria is an active member and participant in the AU, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and the Arab League. It is a delegate for the Africa region on the INTERPOL Executive Board and is a founding member of the IIJ. Additionally, Algeria participated in the White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism in February, and – as a follow-on event – hosted a regional de-radicalization conference, which produced 58 recommendations. Algeria participated in critical counterterrorism-related projects implemented by the UN Office on Drug and Crime’s Terrorism Prevention Branch; participated in CEMOC (Comite d’ État-Major Opérationnel Conjoint) meetings with Mali, Mauritania, and Niger that were designed to promote security cooperation in the region; and hosted CEMOC’s Liaison and Fusion Center for information sharing.
In a leadership role, Algeria sits on the UN Counter-Terrorism Center’s Advisory Board and hosts the headquarters of AFRIPOL, a pan-African organization that fosters police training and cooperation in response to security threats such as terrorism, drug trafficking, and cybercrime. Algeria actively participates in the 5+5 Defense Initiative, which brings together five European and five North African countries to address security issues in the western Mediterranean. As a founding member of the GCTF and co-chair of its Sahel Region Capacity Building Working Group, Algeria continued to champion the implementation and development of the Algiers Memorandum on Good Practices on Preventing and Denying the Benefits of Kidnapping for Ransom by Terrorists.
Algeria also provided capacity-building assistance to some neighbors. The Tunisian Defense Minister stated to Tunisian media that Algeria is providing training for Tunisian Special Forces on border security pursuant to a bilateral agreement.
Overview: During 2015, the Bahraini government continued to make gains in detecting, neutralizing, and containing terrorist threats from violent Shia militant groups and Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) sympathizers. Those groups’ use of real and fake IEDs remained a key threat to security services, resulting in the death of three police officers. The government also began to implement new counterterrorism laws the legislature approved in 2014, including revoking the citizenship of suspected and convicted terrorists. By year’s end, the Bahraini government had interdicted several smuggling operations and seized sizeable caches of military-grade explosives, shaped charges, and sophisticated detonators. These raids ensnared several militant cells and significantly eroded militant attacks on police.
The Bahraini government supported the international Global Coalition to Counter ISIL and in December joined the Saudi-led 34-country Islamic counterterrorism alliance. The Bahraini government often did not publicize details about the arrests or convictions of Sunni terrorists, complicating efforts to track its progress against the domestic ISIL threat. Nevertheless, Bahraini leaders publicly condemned ISIL’s worldwide activities, ideology, and recruitment, while the government worked to detect, counter, and discourage domestic ISIL recruitment and extremist messaging. In October, the government announced it had charged 24 individuals – seven of whom were in detention and the rest of whom remained at large in Iraq and Syria – with forming an ISIL cell that plotted suicide attacks in Bahrain and recruited fighters for the organization. In December, however, the Public Prosecutor released four of the detained suspects for lack of evidence. Security services also arrested another Sunni man and charged him with purchasing arms for the terrorist group. On several occasions in 2015, ISIL-affiliated social media accounts claimed the group would carry out attacks in Bahrain, but these failed to materialize. Bahrain participated in Global Coalition to Counter ISIL Political Directors meetings in Amman, Quebec, and Brussels; and the Minister of Foreign Affairs participated in the June 2 Coalition Group Ministerial Meeting in Paris.
2015 Terrorist Incidents: Bahrain continued to experience periodic bomb attacks from Shia militants throughout the year with targeting focused exclusively on Bahraini security forces. In previous years, the attacks mostly involved homemade devices, but in 2015 the militants began to use military-grade explosive materials, such as C-4 and RDX.
- On March 19, a bomb injured two policemen in the predominantly Shia village of Karranah.
- On July 15, the Ministry of Interior (MOI) reported a man accidentally blew himself up when attempting to plant a bomb that targeted police in the Shia village of Eker.
- On July 28, a bomb killed two policemen and injured six policemen outside a girls’ school on the Shia majority island of Sitra.
- On August 28, a blast killed one policeman in Karranah and seven civilians were injured in collateral damage.
- On September 10, a bomb targeted a police station in the town of Bilad Al-Qadim but caused no casualties.
Suspected Shia militants targeted security services with Molotov cocktails and other homemade devices throughout 2015 and other blasts occurred with fewer or no casualties.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: Throughout 2015, Bahrain moved to bolster existing counterterrorism laws and criminal penalties. In March, the Shura Council – Bahrain’s appointed, upper legislative chamber – approved a draft law increasing sentences for those who “promote or glorify” terrorists acts to 10 years and/or a fine of US $13,350, which the Cabinet approved in September and referred to the elected lower house. In December, the Council of Representatives – Bahrain’s elected, lower chamber – approved a royal decree amending provisions of the 2006 terrorism law, allowing security forces to detain suspects for longer periods of time without charging them, and to take other measures, such as shutting off electricity in a given city block where a suspected terrorist incident occurred, when searching for suspects. Terrorism-related acts, a broadly-defined category, are treated as criminal cases, with prescribed penalties spelled out in the Anti-Terrorism Law of 2006 and Articles 155 and 168 of the Penal Code. While many of the terrorism cases in 2015 involved criminals who engaged in violent acts against security services, there were concerns that the government sometimes used counterterrorism laws – specifically citizenship revocations – to prosecute or harass individuals for their criticism of the government.
Throughout 2015, security services were able to detect, deter, and respond to terrorist incidents. The MOI is the lead government agency charged with detecting and preventing acts of terrorism and arresting suspects in terrorist-related acts, with the Bahrain National Security Agency providing intelligence support. The Bahraini Coast Guard also contributes to the counterterrorism mission by monitoring and interdicting the seaborne movement of weapons and terrorists into and out of the country. The major deterrents to more effective law enforcement and border security remain the lack of interagency coordination and limited training opportunities to develop requisite law enforcement skills.
Bahrain has participated in the Department of State’s Antiterrorism Assistance (ATA) program since 1987. One Combatting Domestic and Transnational Terrorism ATA course took place in 2015 that graduated approximately 20 officers.
Bahrain’s ability to detect transnational plots remains limited due to capacity, detection, and information-sharing deficiencies. Every year, millions of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) nationals transit the King Fahad Causeway connecting Bahrain to Saudi Arabia with relatively little screening. The Saudi citizen who killed 27 worshippers in a Kuwaiti mosque in June transited Bahrain via the airport, highlighting the country’s vulnerability to threats from violent extremists residing in neighboring countries.
Security forces reported they thwarted several plots through arrests and the discovery of at least two large weapons caches. In March, police and customs officials intercepted a bus containing bomb-making materials attempting to enter Bahrain from Saudi Arabia across the King Fahad Causeway. In June, the government uncovered a warehouse in the Dar Kulaib village containing explosives and bomb-making materials. In September, security forces discovered a facility that contained bomb-making equipment and 1.4 tons of explosives. In November, the Bahraini government announced it had conducted a major counterterrorism operation resulting in the arrest of 47 individuals, the confiscation of bomb-making materials, and the disruption of several terrorist plots.
In 2015, Bahrain initiated dozens of cases for terrorism-related crimes and secured 11 convictions. Sentences varied but included the death penalty and revocation of citizenship for those accused of more serious crimes. However, the government has not carried out an execution of a foreign national since 2010 and has not executed a Bahraini national since 1996. In January, the government cited the 2006 terrorism law when it revoked the citizenship of 72 citizens, many of whom were out of the country at the time. In March, the High Criminal Court sentenced three Bahrainis to death and seven others to life in prison while revoking the citizenship of eight of them for a 2014 bombing that killed three policemen. In April, the same court sentenced a man to death and gave varying sentences to 11 others, ranging from 10 years to life for another 2014 bombing that killed a policeman. In June, a court sentenced two men who previously had their citizenships revoked to life in prison for terrorism-related charges. In November, a lower court convicted five Bahrainis of plotting terrorist attacks, revoked their citizenship, and sentenced them to life in prison. Also in November, a court sentenced 12 Bahrainis to life in prison and revoked their citizenships for terrorist acts and targeting police. Various other suspects received sentences ranging from a few years to life in prison for other planned or executed attacks against the security services.
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Bahrain is a member of the Middle East and North Africa Financial Action Task Force, a Financial Action Task Force (FATF)-style regional body. Its financial intelligence unit, the Anti-Money Laundering Unit, is a member of the Egmont Group. Bahrain is an important regional financial hub, which makes it vulnerable to large amounts of money flowing through the Gulf region to support various terrorist groups. In 2015, Bahrain organized or participated in several meetings focused on disrupting the financial support systems for terrorist entities. The government sent a delegation with representatives from the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Finance, and Interior to the three initial meetings for the Counter-ISIL Finance Group in Rome, Jeddah, and Washington, DC. In April, Bahrain hosted the 8th EU-GCC Workshop on Combatting Terrorist Financing. In November, Bahrain hosted the “Good Giving Conference,” a workshop focused on combating the financing of terrorism through preventing abuse of the charitable sector. The program focused on international good practices used to ensure charitable donations are not used or diverted for nefarious purposes.
Throughout 2015, the Central Bank of Bahrain (CBB) continued its efforts to upgrade the country’s AML/CFT regulatory framework via an entity known as the Policy Committee, which formulates AML/CFT policies and is in charge of implementing FATF recommendations. The CBB periodically reviewed financial institutions’ licenses to ensure compliance with CBB regulations. In April, the CBB took organizational control of the Iran Future Bank, which the U.S. government had previously sanctioned for aiding in Iran’s nuclear proliferation and missile acquisition activities, and the Iran Insurance Company in order to “protect the rights of depositors,” but declined to provide further details. In August, the government detained former opposition parliamentarian Hassan Isa on terrorism finance-related charges, although opposition groups and activists complained the detention was politically motivated.
The Ministry of Labor and Social Development’s (MOLSD) Directorate of Civil Societies monitors and administers civil society and NGOs, including charitable institutions that could be used to finance terrorists or terrorist groups. When a group petitions the MOLSD to form a new civil society group, the Ministry’s Financial and Legal Departments scrutinize the potential new group’s finances in coordination with the CBB and MOI. The CBB also works with the MOLSD to prepare a report regarding the groups’ internal and external fund transactions. The Directorate of Civil Societies submit an annual financial report issued by an accredited auditing firm, which is reviewed by the Ministry’s Financial and Administrative departments, and is subject to inspection visits throughout the year by the MOLSD’s Registration and Public Relations Departments.
For additional information on money laundering and financial crimes, see the 2016 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INSCR), Volume II, Money Laundering and Financial Crimes: http://www.state.gov/j/inl/rls/nrcrpt/index.htm.
Countering Violent Extremism: The Ministry of Justice and Islamic Affairs (MOJIA) heads Bahrain’s efforts to counter radicalization to violence and violent extremism, in part by organizing regular workshops for clerics and speakers from both the Sunni and Shia sects. The MOJIA also undertakes an annual review of schools’ Islamic Studies curricula to evaluate interpretations of religious texts.
International and Regional Cooperation: Bahrain worked closely and cooperatively with international, multilateral, and regional partners. It is a member of the GCC and participated in the August U.S.-GCC Counterterrorism and Border Security Working Group meeting in Riyadh. Since formally endorsing the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism in March 2008, Bahrain has proactively worked to expand air, sea, and causeway border control points, although its data collection and information-sharing capabilities remain limited.
Overview: In 2015, the Egyptian government continued to confront active terrorist groups, which conducted deadly attacks on government, military, and civilian targets throughout the country. During the latter half of the year, the number of reported IEDs, anti-government demonstrations, and attacks on security forces declined considerably, particularly after the Egyptian Economic Development Conference held in Sharm El-Sheikh in March 2015. However, terrorist groups have succeeded in launching several large-scale attacks in Cairo and other urban areas.
Recent attacks and social media propaganda suggest that terrorist groups are increasingly seeking to expand the geographic scope of attacks outside the restive areas of northeast Sinai. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)-Sinai Province (ISIL-SP) remained a significant threat; however, a new group calling itself “Islamic State Egypt,” distinct from ISIL Sinai, has begun to claim responsibility for terrorist attacks outside of Sinai. While these organizations receive some external financial and logistical support as a result of their affiliation with ISIL, there is no evidence of a significant presence of non-Egyptian “foreign terrorist fighters” in Egypt.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi continued to focus on counterterrorism in Egypt. In the wake of the assassination of Egyptian Prosecutor General Hisham Barakat, the Egyptian government approved a new counterterrorism law, increasing the state’s legal authorities to counter terrorism. The law provides a broad definition of terrorism, to include “any act harming national unity or social peace.”
The Egyptian Armed Forces (EAF) had limited success in combatting terrorist groups. The EAF launched a stepped-up counterterrorism campaign (known as Operation “Right of the Martyr”) against ISIL-SP on September 7. The EAF also continued to seize and destroy numerous tunnels used for smuggling between Egypt and Gaza. On November 9, security forces killed senior ISIL-SP member Ashraf Gharabli, whom security officials alleged orchestrated several large-scale terrorist attacks. The EAF also undertook actions to counter the movement of ISIL personnel in western Egypt; however, an errant Egyptian counterterrorism operation on September 14, 2015 killed 12 Mexican tourists mistaken for terrorists. The Government of Egypt has taken responsibility for the action and is compensating the victims’ families.
Egypt is a member in the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL and the Counter-ISIL Finance Group.
2015 Terrorist Incidents: Groups claiming to be affiliated with ISIL and other terrorist groups carried out numerous attacks throughout Egypt. Methods included vehicle-borne IEDs (VBIEDs), ambushes, kidnappings, and targeted assassinations. The following list details only a small fraction of the incidents that occurred.
- On June 29, an explosive device targeted Prosecutor General Hisham Barakat’s motorcade shortly after Barakat departed his home in Heliopolis. Barakat succumbed to his wounds later that afternoon and nine other people were injured. A claim of responsibility by a group that calls itself Giza Popular Resistance could not be confirmed.
- On July 1, as many as 70 ISIL-SP operatives simultaneously attacked several police and security installations in the Sinai’s Sheiykh Zuweid region. The multifaceted attack resulted in the deaths of 35 people.
- On July 11, a bomb heavily damaged the Italian Consulate in downtown Cairo and killed one civilian. Islamic State-Egypt claimed responsibility for the attack on social media.
- On July 16, a missile was launched from the shore in Sinai and hit an Egyptian naval vessel and set it ablaze. ISIL-SP claimed responsibility.
- On July 22, Croatian citizen Tomislav Salopek, who worked as a topographer for a French energy company, was kidnapped in the Western Desert, west of the Cairo suburb of 6th of October City. On August 5, in a video posted on a Twitter account associated with ISIL-SP, the group claimed responsibility for the abduction and demanded the release of all female Muslims in Egyptian prisons within 48 hours in exchange for Salopek. Salopek was ultimately beheaded; ISIL-SP claimed responsibility for the killing.
- On August 20, a VBIED attack occurred adjacent to a National Security Sector (NSS) building in Cairo’s Shubra El Kheima neighborhood. The explosion resulted in substantial damage to the exterior of the building and injured 30. Islamic State-Egypt claimed responsibility via social media.
- On October 31, an A-321 Airbus operated by the Russian charter company Kogalymavia crashed 23 minutes after taking off from Sharm El-Sheikh International Airport, killing all 224 people on board. While the official investigation remained ongoing at year’s end, ISIL-SP claimed responsibility. Russian and other international investigators have claimed that an explosive device was responsible for the crash.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: Egypt adopted two significant new counterterrorism laws by Presidential decree in 2015. The “Terrorist Entities Law,” adopted on February 24, establishes a mechanism for designating organizations or individuals as terrorist entities, a procedure which had previously been ad hoc. On August 15, spurred in part by the assassination of Prosecutor General Barakat, the government issued a sweeping new counterterrorism law, after several years of discussion. The government says the law consolidates existing legislation addressing terrorism-related crimes and closes legal gaps. The law expands the definition of terrorism to encompass acts committed outside of Egypt and also establishes penalties for those who travel in order to commit acts of terrorism, as well as those who support and recruit for them. The law also imposes a steep fine, equal to many times the average annual salary of most local journalists, for publishing “false news” that contradicts official government reports on terrorism, which some civil society organizations worry could be used to stifle dissent and could lead to under-reporting on acts of terrorism.
The NSS is primarily responsible for counterterrorism functions in Egypt, but also works with other elements of the Ministry of Interior (MOI), the Egyptian General Intelligence Service, and the EAF. There was interagency cooperation and information sharing among the various counterterrorism elements within the Egyptian government in 2015.
Egypt continued to take actions to improve its border security measures. At border crossings and airports, Egyptian authorities checked for the presence of known security features within travel documents, such as micro-printing, UV features, and digital schemes. They also scanned and cross referenced documents with criminal databases that alert them when there is derogatory information present. Egypt maintains a terrorist watchlist with a simple listing provided to Egyptian immigration officials at the ports of entry and detailed information maintained within the NSS.
Egypt’s primary physical border security concerns are along the borders with Gaza and Libya. The EAF aggressively sought to destroy underground tunnels that connect Gaza and Sinai. The EAF also established and de-populated a buffer-zone along the border with Gaza, which extended to 1.5 kilometers from the border at the end of the year. Egypt increased its military presence along the Libya border; the government installed cargo and passenger vehicle x-ray scanning devices at the Libyan border crossing to inspect traffic traveling both into and out of Egypt. The EAF was also working to procure a suite of mobile surveillance technologies to improve its situational awareness along the border with Libya.
In an effort to prevent the travel of foreign terrorist fighters to areas of conflict, the government increased the number of countries for which citizens between the ages of 18 and 40 must first obtain permission prior to travel, and expanded this requirement to include women.
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Egypt is a member of the Middle East and North Africa Financial Action Task Force, a Financial Action Task Force (FATF)-style regional body. Egypt’s financial intelligence unit, the Egyptian Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing Combating Unit, is a member of the Egmont Group. Egypt is not considered a regional financial center or a major hub for money laundering. The Government of Egypt has shown increased willingness to tackle money laundering, but Egypt remained vulnerable by virtue of its large informal, cash-based economy. In 2015, the Central Bank, Ministry of Finance, and other government entities strengthened efforts to promote financial inclusion by incentivizing individuals and small and medium enterprises to enter the formal financial sector. Recent measures included digitization of government payments, introduction of smartcards, and increased banking services with mini-branches and more ATMs. Sources of illegal proceeds reportedly included the smuggling of antiquities and trafficking in narcotics and/or arms. However, some organizations have used new technologies and social media to raise funds. For example, ISIL-SP solicited funds using Twitter to finance terrorist activities in Egypt, relying on anonymous prepaid value cards. Authorities also noted increased interception of illicit cross-border fund transfers by customs agents in recent years. For additional information on money laundering and financial crimes, see the 2016 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INSCR), Volume II, Money Laundering and Financial Crimes: http://www.state.gov/j/inl/rls/nrcrpt/index.htm.
Countering Violent Extremism: The Ministry of Islamic Endowments (Awqaf) is legally responsible for issuing guidance to which all imams throughout Egypt are required to adhere, including weekly instructions on a provided theme that aims to prevent extremist language in sermons. The Ministry is also required to license all mosques in Egypt; however, many continued to operate without licenses. The government has the authority to appoint and monitor the imams who lead prayers in licensed mosques, and the government pays their salaries.
Egypt’s Dar Al-Iftaa (Egypt's official body for drafting religious edicts) has increased its efforts to counter violent extremism and extremist religious rhetoric, particularly online, where it has millions of followers on social media. Dar Al-Iftaa’s countering violent extremism activities included sending scholars to remote areas of the country to engage communities considered vulnerable to violent extremist messaging; organizing international outreach and speaking tours throughout Muslim majority countries and the West; publishing books and pamphlets to undermine the alleged religious foundations of violent extremist ideology; running rehabilitation sessions for former violent extremists; and confronting violent extremists in cyber space.
International and Regional Cooperation: Egypt continued to participate in the Global Counterterrorism Forum, co-chairing (along with the United States) the Criminal Justice and Rule of Law Working Group. Egypt was elected in October to a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council for a two-year term, beginning in 2016. In December, Egypt was selected to preside over the UNSC Counter Terrorism Committee. It is also a member of the AU.
Overview: Iraq witnessed a continued surge of terrorist activity in 2015, primarily as a result of the actions of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which has occupied large areas of the country since early 2014. ISIL had no strategic victories after its capture of Ramadi in May 2015, however, and lost more than 40 percent of the Iraqi territory it once controlled. A series of successive ISIL defeats shifted the momentum in favor of the Iraqi government and the Coalition by year’s end.
In April, an Iraqi-led military effort retook the city of Tikrit, the symbolically-important hometown of Saddam Hussein. The subsequent return of 80 percent of internally displaced persons to the city by the end of the year was a major milestone in the effort against ISIL, and the Iraqi government coordinated closely with the international community to stabilize the city. In November, Peshmerga forces retook the town of Sinjar, a city that came to the world’s attention with brutal attacks by ISIL against the Yezidi community in the summer of 2014. At the end of the year, newly-empowered Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) units, accompanied by local Sunni fighters, liberated large parts of Ramadi, the capital of Anbar Province and a strategically important hub.
Although the Government of Iraq – supported by the 66-member Global Coalition to Counter ISIL – made significant progress in its campaign to retake occupied territory from ISIL, there remained a security vacuum in parts of Iraq.
2015 Terrorist Incidents: Terrorist groups continued to mount a large number of attacks throughout the country. Most notably, ISIL’s use of military equipment captured in the course of fighting gave it greater capabilities in line with a more conventional military force, including the reported use of eastern bloc tanks, artillery, and self-developed unmanned aerial drones. According to estimates from the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), acts of terrorism and violence killed more than 7,500 civilians and injured more than 13,800 in 2015.
Iranian-backed groups, including Kata’ib Hizballah (KH), continued to operate in Iraq during 2015, which exacerbated sectarian tensions in Iraq and contributed to human rights abuses against primarily Sunni civilians. KH and other Iraqi Shia militias associated with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards have been brought into the Iraqi government’s Popular Mobilization Forces. The inclusion of KH, a designated Foreign Terrorist Organization, in the Popular Mobilization Forces enlisted by the Iraqi Government in the effort against ISIL, threatens to undermine counterterrorism objectives.
The following is an illustrative sample that highlights only a small number of the most egregious terrorist attacks conducted in 2015:
- On January 1, 15 members of the Jamilat tribe in Ninewa Province were executed after refusing to join ISIL.
- On February 7, three separate bombings in Baghdad, including one suicide bomber, killed 36 people and injured 70.
- On April 17, ISIL claimed responsibility for a car bomb attack that killed three and wounded five outside the U.S. Consulate in Erbil.
- On April 22, eight pilgrims returning from a Shia shrine in Samarra were killed in a suicide bombing; 16 others were injured.
- On May 8, three suicide bombers attacked the al-Zahraa mosque and the Imam Hussein mosque, killing at least 22 people in total, including a senior police officer.
- On May 12, a suicide bomber and two mortar attacks that were launched during a Shia march in Baghdad killed six and injured 16.
- On June 25, five separate bombings and a shooting incident in Baghdad killed eight and injured more than 20.
- On July 17, a suicide car bombing using an ice cream truck in Khan Bani Saad (Diyala Province) targeted a local marketplace. Approximately 130 people were killed with a similar number injured. Several others were killed by buildings that collapsed as a result of the explosion.
- On July 25, two suicide bombers attacked a crowded swimming pool in Tuz Khurmatu causing at least 12 deaths and 45 injured.
- On August 13, a truck bomb targeted a food market in a predominantly Shia neighborhood in Sadr City killing two and injuring 10.
- On October 3, twin suicide bombings in Baghdad killed 18 and wounded more than 60.
- On November 30, a suicide bomber detonated his explosives at a checkpoint along a route used by Shia pilgrims in the northern Baghdad neighborhood of al-Shaab, killing nine and wounding 21. The victims were taking part in the annual Arba'een ceremony.
- On December 9, a suicide bomber detonated his explosives in the doorway of a Shia mosque at the end of prayer in Baghdad killing 11 and wounding 20.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: ISIL offensives in 2014 and early 2015 significantly degraded ISF capabilities, manpower, and equipment. The Government of Iraq suffered losses across its national security apparatus, especially in the Iraqi Army and federal and local police. However, with substantial assistance received from the Coalition to address training and equipping shortfalls, the Government of Iraq worked to redress those losses.
Iraq adopted the Terrorist Interdiction Program’s Personal Identification Secure Comparison and Evaluation System (PISCES) in an effort to secure its borders and identify fraudulent travel documents. The Government of Iraq has the capability to conduct biographic and biometric screening at multiple land and air ports of entry. Iraq also continued to participate in the Department of State’s Antiterrorism Assistance (ATA) program; ATA training for the Emergency Response Brigades contributed to the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL.
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Since 2005, Iraq has been a member of the Middle East and North Africa Financial Action Task Force (MENAFATF), a Financial Action Task Force (FATF)-style regional body. Iraq is also under review by the FATF, due to a number of strategic deficiencies in its anti-money laundering/combating the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) regime. In December, the Iraqi government adopted a new AML/CFT law, which will require extensive implementing regulations to ensure its compliance with international (FATF) standards. Although that law represented significant progress in strengthening Iraq’s AML/CFT regime, in and of itself it did not fulfill all of the country’s commitments to the FATF. In December, as part of its Action Plan with the FATF, the Iraqi government adopted a new AML/CFT law, which will require extensive implementing regulations to ensure it is compliant with international standards.
In 2015, the Central Bank of Iraq took a number of steps to disrupt ISIL’s financial activity, including: issuing a national directive to prohibit financial transactions with banks and financial companies located in ISIL-controlled areas; cutting off salary payments to government employees located in ISIL-controlled areas to prevent those salaries from being “taxed” by ISIL and so used to fund ISIL operations; and publishing a list of exchange houses and transfer companies prohibited from accessing U.S. currency auctions.
For further information on money laundering and financial crimes, see the 2016 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), Volume II, Money Laundering and Financial Crimes: http://www.state.gov/j/inl/rls/nrcrpt/2014/index.htm.
Countering Violent Extremism: The Government of Iraq recognizes that to defeat ISIL it must use soft power along with hard power. The Iraqis took a good first step when the Iraqi National Security Council, in conjunction with Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve, hosted an International Military Conference on Psychological Operations to Counter Da’esh Media on December 16-17 in Baghdad. The conference brought together representatives from 17 nations in an effort to increase the effectiveness of combined operations to degrade ISIL propaganda and to aid the Iraqi government and Security Forces in communicating a more viable narrative than that offered by ISIL. The conference received extensive media coverage and the public acknowledgement by many prominent Iraqis of the divisiveness caused by sectarianism was an encouraging development.
International and Regional Cooperation: Iraq is a member of multilateral and regional organizations including the UN, the Organization of the Islamic Conference, and the Arab League. The U.S.-led Global Coalition to Counter ISIL focused on training, equipping, advising, and assisting the ISF, including Kurdish forces. Seventeen Coalition members joined the United States in deploying military personnel to assist the Iraqi government in training, along with “advise and assist” missions. Coalition partners trained more than 30,000 ISF, while 12 Coalition members conducted more than 6,000 air strikes in Iraq, including 630 in support of the Ramadi liberation. In addition, more than a dozen Coalition partners contributed $50 million to the Funding Facility for Iraq Stabilization.
There were a number of global events meant to focus the international community on supporting counter-ISIL efforts as well as the many post-conflict stabilization needs in Iraq. In January, the Small Group Ministerial met in London to assess the counter-ISIL campaign and reconvened in Brussels in June again to assess progress. The Global Coalition convened the Stabilization Working Group in March in Berlin followed by a subsequent meeting in May in Abu Dhabi. In July, the political directors of the Coalition Small Group met in Quebec City following a meeting of the Lines of Effort leads and the one-year anniversary of the Counter-ISIL Coalition on September 28. On November 4, the Small Group of the Counter-ISIL Coalition met in Brussels to take stock of developments on the ground and continue expanding efforts to degrade and defeat ISIL. Later that same month, the Ambassadors of the Global Coalition met at the Department of State where the Vice President called on the Coalition to intensify its efforts against ISIL.
ISRAEL, THE WEST BANK AND GAZA, AND JERUSALEM
Overview: Israel was a committed counterterrorism partner in 2015. Israel again faced terrorist threats from Palestinian violent extremists including Hamas, the Popular Resistance Committees, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), particularly from Gaza but also from the West Bank. Other threats included Hizballah in Lebanon and Syria; al-Qa’ida (AQ) and its affiliates, and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and its affiliates in the country and along its borders, such as ISIL Sinai Province (ISIL-SP) and al-Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade in the Golan Heights. In addition, since October 1, Israel has faced a wave of terrorist attacks committed by individuals with no clear organizational affiliation. Israeli officials argued that the spike in violence has its roots in part in Palestinian fears that the Government of Israel intends to alter the status quo at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount and is fanned by incitement by senior figures in the Palestinian Authority, while representatives of the Palestinian Authority argued that the attackers were largely motivated by frustration over the occupation and the lack of a political horizon.
Gaza-based Palestinian terrorist organizations continued rocket and mortar attacks into Israeli territory, and multiple terrorist attacks were launched along Israel’s security barrier with Gaza. Most of these were initiated by the Omar Hadid-Bayt Almaqdis Brigades, a Salafi organization based in Gaza and inspired by ISIL. Israel saw an increase in the number of launches in 2015, totaling 24 for the year, and a maximum of seven launches during the month of October. The Gaza-based Palestinian organization "Al-Sabirin", which is supported by Iran and identifies with Lebanese Hizballah, has claimed responsibility for launching rockets into Israel as well. Militants continued efforts to smuggle arms and dual-use materials through the Sinai into Gaza via tunnels. Israeli officials welcomed significant efforts by the Government of Egypt to prevent such smuggling.
Israeli counterterrorism officials said Hamas and other Gaza terrorists made quantitative and qualitative advances in their military capabilities. Israel assessed that Hamas and PIJ have regained most of the military capabilities that were severely damaged during operation "Protective Edge" (July 7 to August 26, 2014), and have, in some cases, expanded their capabilities, including by constructing new offensive tunnels and acquiring other advanced capabilities such as an arsenal of medium-to-long range rockets and unmanned aerial vehicles.
Hamas continued to develop its terrorist infrastructures and activities in the West Bank, specifically in order to attack Israelis. During 2015, Israel's Security Agency, IDF, and Police exposed and foiled several cells of Hamas operating in the West Bank, which were planning to execute terrorist attacks in Israel.
Since October 2015, Israeli and Palestinian security services continued coordination to address a wave of terrorist attacks committed by individuals with no clear affiliation to terrorist organizations. These attacks consisted mostly of stabbings of soldiers and civilians, as well as shootings or rammings by vehicles. The attacks occurred in the West Bank, Jerusalem, and in Israeli cities.
Israeli officials estimated that the level of threat from global terrorist organizations such as ISIL and AQ and its affiliates increased in 2015. Attacks from ISIL-SP continued as the organization launched rockets toward Israel in July. In addition, ISIL released several audio and video recordings, in Arabic, English, and Hebrew, stating its ambition to attack and destroy Israel and the Jewish people. ISIL leader Abu-Bakr al-Baghdadi released an audio recording in late December (his first since being wounded in May), calling on Muslims to attack Israel. One group claiming affiliation with ISIL, the Al-Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade, controlled areas inside Syria close to the Israel-Syria border. Israel was also concerned with potential attacks by terrorists against Israeli targets abroad. For example, in December, German media reported that two ISIL activists were arrested while trying to assemble an IED. The two planned to plant explosives at the Israeli Embassy in Berlin.
Israeli government officials estimated that about 55 Israeli citizens and residents left Israel to join the fighting in Syria and Iraq. Several of those have died in battle and seventeen have returned, of whom 11 were prosecuted and sentenced.
Israeli security officials and politicians remained concerned about the terrorist threat posed to Israel from Hizballah and Iran, highlighting that Iran, primarily through the efforts of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force (IRGC-QF), continued to transfer arms to Hizballah. Israeli experts believed that Iran has transferred to Hizballah advanced weapons systems such as anti-aircraft and anti-ship cruise missile systems, and was continuing to transfer long-range rockets into Lebanon. Also, Israeli officials were concerned about the proliferation of conventional and non-conventional weapons from Syria to terrorist organizations. According to the Government of Israel, Hizballah has stockpiled more than 100,000 rockets and missiles in Lebanon since the 2006 Lebanon War.
Hizballah continued to act against Israel and Israeli targets around the world. In January, Hizballah launched mortar shells toward Israeli cities in the north and fired anti-tank missiles at an IDF patrol, killing two Israeli soldiers and wounding several others. Hizballah also continued to operate proxy groups based in the Syrian Golan Heights against Israel. One of these groups was headed by Samir Kuntar who publicly announced that he was operating from the Golan Heights with support from Hizballah against Israel. Several attacks by Kuntar's group were foiled. In December 2015, Hizballah officials alleged that Kuntar had been killed in an airstrike in Syria, attributing this attack to the Israeli government.
Iran and Hizballah reportedly continued to prepare for attacks against Israeli targets outside the country. In late November, Kenyan security agencies announced that they had arrested two Iranian citizens, allegedly sent by the Iranian IRGC/Quds force to execute a terrorist attack against Israeli targets in Nairobi. In May, Cypriot police arrested a Lebanese-Canadian national, Hussain Abdallah, who later admitted he was working for Hizballah's External Security Organization. Abdallah possessed about 8.5 tons of chemicals used for manufacturing explosives. Abdallah acknowledged to Cypriot investigators that that the explosive pre-cursors interrogation showed the explosives were supposed to be used against Israeli targets in Cyprus and other places in Europe. Iran has stated publicly that it armed Hizballah with advanced long-range Iranian-manufactured missiles, in violation of UN Security Council Resolutions (UNSCRs) 1701 and 1747.
While Israel is not involved in the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL, it shares information to help track and stem the flow of foreign terrorist fighters through information exchanges on counterterrorism issues with numerous governments. In support of the UN 1267/1989/2253 ISIL (Da’esh) and al-Qa’ida sanctions regime, Israel regularly updates the list of foreign terrorist organizations and individuals involved in terrorism to better align with UNSC sanctions lists. Additionally, in November 2015 the Israeli interagency team appointed by the Israeli government submitted its report about the need and methods of requiring and collecting advance passenger information and Passenger Name Record data from airlines operating in its territory, to achieve better safety measures and as part of Israel’s implementation of UNSCR 2178.
Attacks by Jewish Israelis against Arab citizens of Israel – many of whom self-identify as Palestinian – and Palestinian residents, property, and places of worship in Israel, Jerusalem, and the West Bank continued. Israeli President Reuven Rivlin spoke out against extremist violence and “price tag” attacks (property crimes and violent acts by extremist Jewish individuals and groups in retaliation for activity they deemed to be anti-settlement) on multiple occasions, as did Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other elected officials.
2015 Terrorist Incidents: The Israel Security Agency (ISA) reported 22 rocket attacks from Gaza in 2015. On July 3, ISIL-SP claimed responsibility for launching two rockets towards Israeli communities in the northern Negev. There were no reported injuries or property damage from the attack.
Notable terrorist attacks from the northern border included:
- On January 28, in two incidents, Hizballah launched anti-tank missiles at an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) patrol on the Israel-Lebanon border, killing two soldiers and wounding seven.
- On April 26, Israel foiled an attempt by four terrorists from the Syrian Golan heights to plant IEDs along the Israeli-Syrian border. The four were members of a proxy terrorist cell of Hizballah, headed by Samir Kuntar.
- On December 20, the same day that Hizballah terrorist Samir Kuntar’s death was announced, three rockets were fired at northern Israel from Lebanese territory near the Palestinian refugee camp of Rashidiya. The rockets landed in unpopulated areas, causing no injuries.
Lone offender attacks included:
- On January 21, a Palestinian national who entered Israel illegally boarded a municipal bus in Tel Aviv and began stabbing other passengers with a sharp object, injuring 12, some seriously, before police apprehended him. Hamas praised this attack as a “bold and heroic act.”
- On April 20, in the Tel Aviv suburb Herzliya, an Arab Israeli male was stabbed by a man who shouted “Death to Arabs” in a Russian accent before fleeing. Police treated this incident as a terrorist attack.
- In July, an Israeli ultra-Orthodox violent extremist stabbed to death one Israeli and injured six others during the Jerusalem LGBT Pride March. Israeli security forces apprehended the attacker.
- On October 8 an off-duty uniformed IDF soldier and others were stabbed near the Israel Defense Headquarters in Tel Aviv. One victim was seriously wounded. The perpetrator was killed trying to flee the scene.
- On October 13 in the Tel Aviv suburb of Ra’anana, there were two separate stabbing attacks at public bus stops, leaving five wounded. Both perpetrators were apprehended.
- On October 18, an attack at the Be’er Sheva bus terminal resulted in one dead and 10 wounded. Police killed the perpetrator. This was followed by mob violence against an innocent Eritrean bystander who had been shot by security forces in the melee and mistakenly was thought by the mob to be a second attacker; he later succumbed to his wounds.
- On October 22, there was a stabbing and shooting incident in Beit Shemesh. This was followed by calls for a “Day of Rage” for the following day.
- On November 2, there were stabbing attacks in the Tel Aviv suburb of Rishon LeZion and in Netanya.
- On November 19, a stabbing attack in a synagogue in the Panorama Building in Tel Kabir (south of Tel Aviv and east of Jaffa) resulted in one dead and three injured.
- On December 19 in Ra’anana, a Palestinian man stabbed three individuals and severely injured one of them. He subsequently tried to enter a synagogue, but was caught by the police.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: Israel has a robust legal framework to combat terrorism and promote international legal assistance in the investigation and prosecution of terrorists.
Israel regularly adopts the UNSC designations of the AQ-ISIL list in its list of terrorist entities and other sanction lists according to Israel’s Prohibition of Terror Financing Law (2005), which allows the Israeli Security Cabinet to declare a foreign association to be a foreign terrorist organization on the basis of the relevant determination by a foreign country or by the UNSC.
On the law enforcement front, the ISA and Israel National Police (INP) continued to cooperate with U.S. law enforcement agencies on cases involving U.S. citizens killed in terrorist attacks, as well as other counterterrorism initiatives of mutual interest.
In recent years the ISA exposed and arrested several cells of Israeli nationals who vowed allegiance to ISIL or AQ and who were planning to execute a terrorist attack inside Israel. In June, several men, some of whom worked as high school teachers, were arrested in the Bedouin village of al-Hurra for recruiting support for ISIL and planning to travel to Syria and Iraq. In August, a cell of the organization was exposed in Yafi'a. Its members were planning to acquire weapons and attack Israeli soldiers or policemen. In November, two Israelis from the Nazareth area were arrested and accused of supporting the organization and planning an attack inside Israel.
Counterterrorism raids also targeted, among others, the alleged local Hamas commander, who worked to renew the organization’s activity in the Qalqilya region and in surrounding villages. The activities included “preparing the ground for terrorist activities,” the ISA said. Security forces seized more than NIS 35,000 (US $8,950) during the operation.
The Israeli Ministry of Interior maintains a voluntary biometric passport control system at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion International Airport, which is available for Israeli passport holders over the age of 18. The system facilitates both entry into and exit from Israel via an automatic kiosk for Israeli citizens who successfully pass a background check and provide a scan of the back of their hand.
Israel maintains a border fence along the length of its border with the Sinai Peninsula to stem the flow of illegal immigrants into Israel, augmented by cameras and sensors to similarly reduce the threat of terrorism.
Israel does not collect advance Passenger Name Records on commercial flights. However, an Israeli interagency team appointed by the Israeli government in 2014 submitted a report in November 2015 about the need and methods of requiring and collecting advance passenger information and Passenger Name Record data from airlines operating in its territory, to achieve better safety measures, and as part of Israel’s implementation of UNSCR 2178.
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Israel is a member of the Council of Europe’s Select Committee of Experts on the Evaluation of Anti-Money Laundering Measures, a Financial Action Task Force (FATF)-style regional body. The Israeli financial intelligence unit, the Israeli Money Laundering and Terror Finance Prohibition Authority (IMPA), is a member of the Egmont Group. In June 2014, the FATF decided to expand its membership and identified Israel as a candidate for FATF observer status, and in November 2015, a high-level delegation from the FATF visited Israel to review the state for possible observer status. Senior officials in the Israeli government (the Minister of Justice, the Minister of Finance, the State's Attorney, and the Governor of the Bank of Israel) reiterated Israel’s commitment to becoming a member of the organization, as well as its efforts to advance standards regarding combating money laundering and the financing of terrorism to bring the country in line with international standards.
Israel’s counterterrorism finance regime continued to be enhanced through enforcement operations and the inclusion of new groups under national terrorism finance laws. The well-regulated Israeli banking industry worked to address suspected terrorist activity. Israeli experts and officials continued to raise concerns about the issue of state-sponsored funding of Hamas. Hamas is reportedly funding terrorists in the West Bank preparing to perpetrate terrorist attacks against Israel, Israelis, or Israeli interests. For example, 24 Hamas-funded operatives were arrested throughout the West Bank on November 19 in a joint ISA, IDF, and INP operation.
Financing of Hamas through charitable organizations also remained a concern for Israeli authorities, as did the funding of Hizballah through charities and criminal organizations.
Israel regularly updates the list of foreign terrorist organizations and individuals involved in terrorism, in order to align with the UN sanctions lists. The UN sanctions lists are registered in the formal government registry. Every designation is published in three languages (Hebrew, Arabic, English), and run in three different newspapers, as required by law. In addition, designations are published on the website of the IMPA and distributed by email to the IMPA’s mailing list, which includes banks, lawyers, and finance professionals.
For further information on money laundering and financial crimes, see the 2016 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), Volume II, Money Laundering and Financial Crimes: http://www.state.gov/j/inl/rls/nrcrpt/index.htm.
International and Regional Cooperation: Israel continued its counterterrorism cooperation with a range of regional and international institutions, including the UN, the OAS, and the OSCE. From November 9-11, the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs hosted an international conference on "Countering Radicalization and Violent Extremism Leading to Terrorism: The Challenge of Terrorists Acting Alone or in Small Cells" with delegates from 42 countries and 10 international organizations. The conference was hosted in partnership with the Terrorism Prevention Branch of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime and the OSCE, and in consultation with the UNSC Counter-Terrorism Executive Directorate. The conference examined critical issues and challenges faced by many governments in their efforts to counter violent extremism, such as prevention, detection, and intervention; the use of the internet for incitement and radicalization; legal frameworks in the fight against terrorism; and rehabilitation and reintegration of violent extremist offenders.
Israel continued to cooperate with numerous countries regarding efforts to thwart terrorist attacks and plots against Israelis or Israeli interests abroad. In July, Israel and the United States held an interagency counterterrorism dialogue to discuss the broad range of threats in the region and to determine areas of collaboration to address these challenges. Additionally, during 2015, Israel conducted talks on counterterrorism issues with several countries and organizations including Bulgaria, China, France, Germany, Greece, India, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Thailand, the UK, the EU, and NATO.
The West Bank and Gaza, and Jerusalem
The Palestinian Authority (PA) continued its counterterrorism efforts in the West Bank where Hamas, Palestine Islamic Jihad (PIJ), and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) remained present. The PA Security Forces (PASF) constrained those organizations’ ability to conduct attacks, including the November and December arrests of PIJ members in the West Bank who were planning to carry out attacks against Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and other Israeli targets. The PA exercised varying degrees of authority over the West Bank due to the IDF’s continuing presence in certain areas, per Oslo-era agreements. The IDF and ISA arrested members of suspected terrorist organizations operating in the West Bank, including the March arrest of Hamas members who were planning to carry out attacks against Israeli targets during the Jewish holiday of Purim. The PASF, IDF, and ISA thwarted scores of lone offender attacks, particularly during the period of heightened violence that began October 1.
Violent extremist Palestinians continued to conduct acts of violence in the West Bank and Jerusalem. Since early October and through December, the West Bank and Jerusalem witnessed the highest number of Palestinian attacks against Israelis since the Second Intifada, which resulted in the deaths of 16 Israelis, including two dual U.S.-Israeli citizens, and one U.S. citizen. Most attacks were lone offender stabbing attacks, while others were shooting and vehicular attacks. The majority of the perpetrators did not have any organizational affiliation.
Violent extremist Israelis, including settlers, continued to conduct acts of violence as well as “price tag” attacks (property crimes and violent acts by extremist Jewish individuals and groups in retaliation for activity they deemed to be anti-settlement) in the West Bank and Jerusalem. In the deadliest attack against Palestinians since the Second Intifada, in July, it is suspected that two settlers set fire to a home in the West Bank and killed two adults and one infant, and critically injured a five-year-old. In apparent “price tag” attacks in February, Israeli extremists wrote Hebrew graffiti “redemption of Zion” and set fire to a Greek orthodox seminary in Jerusalem, and in a separate incident, wrote Hebrew graffiti “we want the redemption of Zion” and set fire to a mosque in the West Bank. In October, a Jewish violent extremist attacked and injured the head of an Israeli human rights organization. The UN Office of the Coordinator for Humanitarian Affairs reported 224 attacks in 2015 by violent extremist Israeli settlers that resulted in Palestinian injuries or property damage, compared to 324 in 2014.
Hamas continued to maintain control of security forces in Gaza. Several Gaza-based terrorist groups launched attacks against Israel from Gaza. The Government of Egypt’s latest efforts to destroy smuggling tunnels between Egypt and Gaza, including by pumping large volumes of sea water into that buffer zone to force the collapse of tunnels, further hampered the ability of Hamas and other armed groups to smuggle weapons, cash, and other contraband into Gaza.
Gaza remained a base of operations for several Salafist splinter groups, such as Jaysh al-Islam, and clan-based terrorist groups that engaged in or facilitated terrorist attacks. Membership in these groups reportedly increased and new groups emerged after the 2014 Israel-Hamas conflict, as disillusioned members of Hamas and other terrorist groups reportedly defected to more extremist elements. A new Salafist group called the Omar Hadid Brigades took responsibility for most of the rockets fired toward Israel since June 2015. Hamas confronted the growing Salafist threat in Gaza by arresting and detaining a number of Salafists this year, but has since released the majority of the detainees. Despite claims of responsibility from individuals purporting affiliation with the ISIL, there was no definitive link confirming membership on a large scale.
2015 Terrorist Incidents:
- In June, a Palestinian assailant shot and killed one Israeli civilian and injured another while they were driving near the West Bank settlement of Dolev. Israeli security forces apprehended the attacker and four suspected accomplices.
- In July, suspected settlers attacked and destroyed by fire two homes in the Palestinian village of Douma in the West Bank, killing an 18-month-old infant, the two parents, and critically injuring a five-year-old. Israeli authorities found Hebrew graffiti with the words “Revenge” and “Long Live King Messiah” painted on the homes. Israeli authorities indicted two Jewish Israelis for the attack on January 3, 2016.
- In October, Palestinian members of a Hamas cell shot and killed two Israeli civilians, one of whom was an American citizen, while they were driving near the West Bank settlement of Itamar. Israeli security forces arrested the individuals responsible.
- In October, two Palestinian assailants stabbed and shot Israelis aboard a bus in Jerusalem, killing two Israelis, mortally wounding an Israeli-American who died two weeks later, and injuring at least 15. Israeli security forces shot and killed one attacker and arrested the other.
- In November, a Palestinian assailant shot and killed two Israelis and injured at least five others, including minors, while they were driving in the West Bank.
The United States continued to assist the PA's counterterrorism efforts through programs that strengthened the capacity of the PASF, primarily through training, equipping, and the provision of infrastructure to PASF personnel in the West Bank. The United States is also assisting the PASF to institutionalize the security gains of the previous decade by helping it to become self-sustaining. U.S.-funded training of PASF primarily took place at the Jordan International Police Training Center, the Academy for Civil Protection, the King Abdullah II Special Operations Training Center, and the PA’s Central Training Institute in Jericho. Concurrently, the United States continued to assist the larger PA criminal justice system to conduct more thorough investigations and prosecutions of terrorist-related activity, among other criminal acts, and to ensure safe incarceration of those held for trial or after conviction of such crimes.
PA President Mahmoud Abbas reiterated his commitment to nonviolence and recognition of the State of Israel. He also continued to express his commitment to pursue an independent Palestinian state through peaceful means. Abbas continued to support a security program involving disarmament of fugitive terrorists, arresting members of terrorist organizations, and gradually dismantling armed groups in the West Bank. The PASF arrested members of Hamas, PIJ, and PFLP when it suspected them of involvement in terrorist or other criminal acts. For example, the PASF arrested five members of a Hamas cell in Hebron in May that was planning terrorist attacks in Israel, according to media. In mid-October, the PASF arrested 19 Hamas members and other individuals suspected of planning stabbing attacks.
Israeli authorities, among others, continued to note improvements in the capacity and performance of PASF as a leading contributor to the improved security environment in the West Bank. Most notable was the relative lack of organized or large-scale disturbances in the West Bank since the heightened period of violence began in early October.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: The PA continued to lack legislation specifically tailored to counterterrorism, although existing Palestinian laws criminalize actions that constitute terrorist acts.
The PA continued to arrest terrorists in the West Bank, and the PASF and public prosecutors received training to enable better investigations of terrorism-related crimes. Despite on-again, off-again factional reconciliation talks between Hamas and Fatah, PASF personnel continued to conduct operations against and detain Hamas elements, which Hamas officials protested. The PA continued to develop its civilian justice institutions (e.g. judiciary, police, prosecutors) to improve both investigative and prosecutorial functions. The United States and other donors provided material and developmental assistance to enable the PA to reduce case backlogs, improve warrant executions, and upgrade forensic services.
The key PA institution by mandate and law that works to prevent internal terrorist events and investigate security-related criminal conduct is the Preventive Security Organization (PSO). In practice, the General Intelligence Organization and the Military Intelligence Organization also play a critical role in this effort. The PSO conducts investigations in coordination with public prosecutors, but this cooperation could improve, especially in terms of the PSO’s ability to conduct criminal investigations and gather admissible evidence. During 2015, the United States continued assistance to the PSO, as well as the Security Justice Commission, to help the PA move the prosecution of all civilian cases, including those involving terrorism and security-related offenses, to the exclusive jurisdiction of the civilian courts, and enhance cooperation between security service investigators and civilian prosecutors. The PA Security Forces have a mixed although improving record of accountability and respect for human rights.
Per the Oslo-era Accords, Israel controls border security in the West Bank.
The primary limitation on PA counterterrorism efforts in Gaza remained Hamas’ control of the area and the resulting inability of PASF to operate there. Limitations on PA counterterrorism efforts in the West Bank included restrictions on the movement and activities of PASF in and through areas of the West Bank for which the Israeli government retained responsibility for security under the terms of Oslo-era agreements.
While the PA continued to lack modern forensic capability, the multi-year assistance efforts that the Canadian International Development Agency started in late 2012 through the UN Office on Drugs and Crime continued. The forensic science laboratory is fully equipped and training in firearm and tool mark evidence, document examination, and drug analysis was ongoing. The PA already has a basic ability to examine and compare unknown prints to known prints.
PA justice and security leaders continued to participate in regional conferences and meetings to counter terrorism. PASF personnel attended a variety of international counterterrorism training courses at training facilities in Jordan, Europe, and the United States.
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: In 2015, the PA became a full member of the Middle East and North Africa Financial Action Task Force, a Financial Action Task Force (FATF)-style regional body, and later the same year became a member of the MENAFATF’s mutual evaluation working group. Effective December 30, 2015, President Abbas issued Anti-Money Laundering and Terrorism Financing Decree #20. Among the many improvements it made over the inadequate 2007 AML law (the Anti-Money Laundering Decree Law #9) was to make terrorism financing a criminal offense and to define terrorists, terrorist acts, terrorist organizations, foreign terrorist fighters, and terrorism financing. It also makes terrorism and terrorist acts predicate money laundering offenses, although the decree does not fully meet international standards as it does not criminalize all forms of material support or the financing of an individual terrorist in the absence of a link to a specific terrorist act. The legislature has not convened since 2007 and prospects are dim that one will be seated in the foreseeable future. Consequently, the PA remained unable to make legislative improvements (without decree) that were required to bring it up to international standards.
The Palestinian Financial Follow-Up Unit (FFU) is a fully functional financial intelligence unit with 12 employees and a computer system linking it with all 16 banks licensed to operate in the West Bank. Seven banks are local and nine are foreign, operating through a network of 274 branches in the West Bank and Gaza. There are also 306 money changers. The banks file both suspicious transaction reports (STRs) and currency transaction reports electronically through this system. In 2015, banks filed 108 STRs, compared to 54 in 2014. Although the FFU has adequate staffing, authority, and equipment, it has been unable to realize its full operational effectiveness due, in part, to restrictions in the law. The 2007 law restricted information sharing between the FFU and any law enforcement agency, with the exception of the Attorney General’s Office (AGO). While the FFU may pass information, including analysis, to any requesting competent authority according to the 2015 Decree, the AGO is still the recipient for case dissemination. Moreover, the PA has no effective control outside of Area A in the West Bank. The absence of PA law enforcement and regulatory power in Areas B and C increased vulnerability.
For further information on money laundering and financial crimes, see the 2016 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), Volume II, Money Laundering and Financial Crimes: http://www.state.gov/j/inl/rls/nrcrpt/2014/index.htm.
Countering Violent Extremism: The PA has taken significant steps to ensure that official institutions in the West Bank that fall under its control do not create or disseminate content that incites violence. While some PA leaders have made provocative and inflammatory comments, the PA has made progress in reducing official rhetoric that could be considered incitement to violence. There has been a noteworthy decline in the worst forms of PA official or media incitement to violence for most of President Abbas’ tenure (2005 to date), as compared with the previous period under President Arafat, leading up to and through the Second Intifada (1999-2004). Explicit calls for violence against Israelis, direct exhortations against Jews, and categorical denials by the PA of the possibility of peace with Israel are rare and are generally not tolerated by the leadership. For example, in July 2015, President Abbas instructed Foreign Minister Riad Malki to recall Palestinian Ambassador to Chile, Imad Jamil Jadaa, for making anti-Semitic comments at a conference, quoting from the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” According to the PA’s Palestinian Broadcasting Company’s code of conduct, no programming is allowed that encourages “violence against any person or institution on the basis of race, religion, political beliefs, or sex.” In practice, this code of conduct is not always observed, with some instances of incitement taking place via official media.
The PA maintains control over the content of Friday sermons delivered in more than 1800 West Bank mosques to ensure that they do not endorse incitement to violence. Weekly, the PA Minister of Awqaf and Religious Affairs distributes approved themes and prohibits incitement to violence. The PA’s ability to enforce these guidelines varies depending upon its location, and it has limited authority to control the context of sermons in Israeli-controlled Area C. While the PA also monitored official social media websites to ensure that no inciting materials were present, there have been instances where inciting materials have appeared, including the posting of political cartoons glorifying stabbing attacks on one of the official Fatah Facebook pages in October. As part of a policy codified in 2003, the PA provided significant financial packages to Palestinian security prisoners released from Israeli prisons in 2014 in an effort to reintegrate them into society and prevent recruitment by hostile political factions.
Overview: Jordan remained a key U.S. ally in countering terrorism and violent extremist ideology in 2015. Jordan’s location in a tumultuous region made it vulnerable to a variety of threats, yet also facilitated its regional leadership in confronting them. Jordan continued to take part in all key aspects of the Global Coalition to Counter Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). The Royal Jordanian Air Force (RJAF) participated in coalition military operations, and the Jordan Armed Forces (JAF) continued to bolster defenses against terrorist incursions in the northern and eastern border regions. Jordan continued to host U.S. and other coalition partners’ military units for Counter ISIL operations and joint counterterrorism exercises and training. Jordan worked to prevent flows of foreign terrorist fighters headed to Syria and Iraq and restricted terrorism financing.
2015 Terrorist Incidents: In February, ISIL released a video of the group burning alive a Jordanian pilot captured in Syria. In November, a Jordanian police officer killed two U.S. citizen trainers and wounded two others in a shooting at the Jordan International Police Training Center (JIPTC) outside Amman. He also killed a South African trainer and two Jordanian interpreters. All five personnel killed were working on U.S.-supported programs at the facility. The shooter, who was killed in the incident, had recently submitted his resignation from the police. An investigation into the attack by the Government of Jordan was ongoing at the end of 2015.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: The State Security Court (SSC) is the primary legal apparatus for trying and convicting alleged terrorists. The SSC oversees the prosecution of civilians charged with crimes effecting national security. The Counterterrorism Law, as amended in 2014, limits the court’s jurisdiction to five crimes: treason, espionage, terrorism, drug-related offenses, and currency forgery.
The Government of Jordan used the SSC to prosecute crimes associated with terrorist activity. However, the Counterterrorism Law has a broad definition of terrorism, including: harming relations with a foreign state, exposing Jordan to hostile acts, using the internet to facilitate terrorist acts or promote terrorist ideas, forming a group with the intention of committing terrorist acts, and attacks on the life or liberty of members of the royal family. The penal code also provides a broad definition of terrorism to include acts intended to “contravene the public order.”
Jordan has advanced capabilities to detect, deter, and prevent terrorism within its territory. The General Intelligence Directorate (GID) has the authority to investigate terrorism. The Public Security Directorate (PSD) has authority over non-terrorism related crimes, but frequently supports GID counterterrorism activities through PSD Special Branch, which includes a criminal intelligence function. The GID also coordinates with the JAF and its intelligence branch, particularly on cases involving border security, which the JAF oversees. Prosecutors typically are not consulted until the later stages of investigations, when terrorism cases are referred to the SSC. Jordan’s security and intelligence services do not coordinate with one another in all situations, including in terrorism incident response.
Jordan remained committed to securing its borders and denying safe haven to terrorists, and continued to develop its border security infrastructure, largely through the Jordan Border Security Program (JBSP), which began in 2009. JBSP consists of a sophisticated package of sensors to improve situational awareness along the border and prevent infiltrations into, and unauthorized departures, from Jordan. Phases II and III were completed in 2015, covering most of the Syrian border and the border with Iraq. Jordan monitored airports and border crossings for potential foreign terrorist fighters. Jordan maintained a terrorist watchlist, used biographic and biometric screening, and actively engaged in passenger information sharing.
During 2015, Jordanian authorities arrested and began prosecuting men accused of seeking to join al-Nusrah Front and ISIL; recruiting for or otherwise supporting ISIL, including on the internet; and attempting to travel to or return from Syria to fight with violent extremist groups.
- In July, authorities arrested an Iraqi man found in Jordan with 45kg of explosives. Jordanian officials believed him to be a member of Iranian-supported Bayt al-Maqdis, and charged him with plotting to attack a JAF installation.
- In December, the SSC sentenced three unnamed defendants to 10 years in prison with hard labor for planning to attack a GID building in Ar Rusayfah with explosives, and to kill or incapacitate RJAF pilots. Jordanian officials believed the three were ISIL supporters.
- Security officials regularly arrested scores of ISIL supporters, many for posting pro-ISIL videos or statements on social media sites. The government charged them before the SSC for using the internet to propagate terrorist ideology.
- Security forces regularly arrested departing or returning Jordanian foreign terrorist fighters, charging them with joining armed groups, including al-Nusrah Front and ISIL.
The Government of Jordan’s investigation into the November attacks targeting U.S. citizens at JIPTC was ongoing at year’s end. Aside from the shooter who died in the attack, no other suspects have been named or arrested in connection with this incident.
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Jordan is a member of the Middle East and North Africa Financial Action Task Force, a Financial Action Task Force-style regional body. Jordan’s financial intelligence unit, the Anti-Money Laundering Unit (AMLU), is a member of the Egmont Group. Jordan has continued to develop its capacity to address money laundering and terrorism financing throughout 2015, which included amending the 2007 Anti-Money Laundering and Counterterrorism Financing Law, bringing Jordan more in line with international standards. However, the Anti-Money Laundering Law does not oblige non-profit organizations to file suspicious transaction reports (STRs). Although the number of STRs increased by 48 percent in 2015 compared with 2014, officials prosecuted no money laundering cases in 2015. Officials attributed the rise in STR filings to extra caution taken by the financial sector. For additional information on money laundering and financial crimes, see the 2016 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INSCR), Volume II, Money Laundering and Financial Crimes: http://www.state.gov/j/inl/rls/nrcrpt/index.htm.
Countering Violent Extremism: Jordan has sought to confront and weaken the violent ideology that underpins ISIL and other violent extremist organizations. The Prime Minister’s interagency anti-extremist strategy, announced in fall 2014, remained under-resourced and unstaffed, however, and Jordan’s leaders are reticent to acknowledge domestic radicalization, including self-radicalization. Jordan continued efforts to improve counter-radicalization in schools and mosques, but these efforts were rarely well-coordinated across government agencies.
King Abdullah II continued to promote his “Amman Declaration” of 2004, calling for tolerance and peace within the Islamic community, and rejecting “wanton aggression and terrorism.” The Government of Jordan has also created two counter-extremist messaging entities and has become more involved in Coalition messaging efforts. The Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs conducted outreach to imams and waedat (female preachers) across the country, encouraging them to refute radical extremist ideology in their sermons. Civil society organizations conducted activities at schools, universities, youth organizations, community centers, and religious centers to promote moderation and encourage the rejection of violence and community engagement in anti-radicalization efforts.
Jordanian prisons have a religiously-based de-radicalization program that seeks to re-engage violent extremist inmates into the non-violent mainstream of their faith.
International and Regional Cooperation: Jordan is a founding member of the Global Counterterrorism Forum and the GCTF-inspired Institute for Justice and the Rule of Law; and is a member of the Arab League, the Organization for Islamic Cooperation, and the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism. In April, Jordan held the presidency of the UN Security Council (UNSC), and led an open debate on the role of youth in countering violent extremism and promoting peace. In December, the UNSC adopted a Jordanian-sponsored resolution on youth, peace, and security, which focuses on the role of young men and women in peacebuilding and countering violent extremism.
Jordan continued to assist Palestinian Authority law enforcement institutions through training at JIPTC. In 2015, Palestinian law enforcement officers received both advanced-level and refresher courses, in addition to basic-level courses.
Overview: During 2015, the Government of Kuwait continued to build and augment its capacity for counterterrorism and countering violent extremism (CVE). In June, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) conducted its first successful attack in Kuwait by bombing the Imam Sadeq Mosque (one of the country’s most prominent Shia mosques), killing 27 worshippers and injuring 227 others. Fifteen suspects of different nationalities received death and jail sentences in connection with the bombing. ISIL also sought to inspire sympathizers to support, finance, or engage in conflicts outside of Kuwait. In response, the Government of Kuwait increased its emphasis on international counterterrorism cooperation and on internal CVE efforts, maintaining a robust counterterrorism relationship with the United States. Kuwait took several measures to improve the oversight and regulation of charitable fundraising, including monitoring transfers to international beneficiaries and regulating online donations. Kuwait joined the Small Group of the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL, reflecting its contributions to several lines of effort of the counter-ISIL campaign.
2015 Terrorist Incidents: Despite efforts to detect and disrupt terrorist activities, June saw the most violent terrorist attack in recent memory when a Saudi ISIL suicide bomber attacked the Imam Sadeq Mosque during Friday prayers in the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, killing 27 individuals (18 Kuwaitis, three Iranians, two Indians, one Saudi, one Pakistani and one stateless Arab [bidoon]), and wounding 227. In August, Kuwait authorities disrupted a terrorist cell composed of 26 Kuwaitis (all Shia), who had reportedly hidden a large amount of weapons, ammunition, and explosives at a farm near the al-Abdali border crossing with Iraq. The public prosecutor issued a media gag order on the ongoing investigation and trial following media speculation about links to Hizballah and Iran.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: The Kuwaiti government lacked a clear legal framework for prosecuting terrorism-related crimes, often having to resort to other legal statutes to try suspected terrorists, which hampered enforcement efforts. In February, the parliament passed a law that ordered citizens to surrender all unlicensed weapons and explosives by June 22, penalizing would-be violators with fines and jail sentences. In April, it passed a law that prescribed compulsory military service for all Kuwaiti males reaching 18 years of age. In June, it passed a law that regulated installment and operation of security cameras and other surveillance devices in public areas. In July, it passed a law mandating collection of DNA samples from all residents, in order to facilitate comparison to samples collected from terrorist attack scenes.
Following the June bombing of the Imam Sadeq Mosque, the parliament passed a law that prescribed stiff penalties for counterterrorism-related cybercrimes.
In September, a criminal court sentenced to death eight of the 29 suspects accused of plotting the Imam Sadeq Mosque attack. It sentenced seven others to jail sentences of varying length and acquitted the remaining suspects. Those indicted included Kuwaiti, Pakistani, and Saudi nationals, in addition to several bidoon. This case remained in the appeals process at the end of 2015. In November, local media announced the conviction of five residents of Kuwait on terrorism finance charges. Later that month, an additional six individuals were arrested on charges of providing financial and material support to ISIL. The court of appeals in December upheld the conviction and sentencing of two Kuwaiti citizens for joining and financially supporting ISIL.
Law enforcement units were able to detect, deter, and respond to terrorist incidents. Their effectiveness could be made greater by better interagency and inter-ministry information sharing. Kuwaiti command and control structures were often stove-piped. Kuwait’s primary counterterrorism organizations, the Ministry of Interior (MOI) and Kuwait National Guard (KNG), were well-resourced, receptive to suggestions, and actively engaged in training opportunities. Under the Joint Combined Educational Training program, the Embassy’s Office of Military Cooperation engaged with local counterterrorism units for both training and bilateral exercises in an effort to match capabilities with resources. Because the MOI also includes the country’s criminal investigative apparatus and border protection mission, it has broad latitude with respect to investigations and border security. The MOI is also generally considered the single point of contact for incident response, but some terrorist-related matters do fall under the prerogative of the Kuwait State Security Service, a semi-autonomous arm of the MOI.
The Government of Kuwait continued its programs to improve physical border security through the employment of biometric systems, aerial reconnaissance, and border sensors. The means by which ISIL carried out the Imam Sadeq Mosque attack – with the Saudi suicide bomber and his explosive device entering through the international airport and a land border crossing, respectively – highlighted deficiencies in aviation security and border control.
In March, the Government of Kuwait imposed travel bans on two foreign national residents previously designated by the United States for support of terrorism. The Kuwaiti government subsequently froze the individuals’ assets in accordance with UNSCR 1373, but had not taken action in 2015 against a third individual (a Kuwaiti national), who was listed on the UN sanctions lists as a financier of al-Nusrah Front.
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Kuwait is a member of the Middle East and North Africa Financial Action Task Force (MENAFATF), a Financial Action Task Force-style regional body. In recognition of the Kuwaiti government’s efforts to address previously-identified counterterrorism finance deficiencies, MENAFATF in February removed Kuwait from the International Cooperation Review Group process, recognizing the jurisdiction as one that had accomplished all of the targets on its Action Plan; it was also noted for having the means and will to continue to sustain the reforms. A ministerial-level counterterrorism committee – consisting of 16 governmental bodies and chaired by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs – met regularly to execute Kuwait’s AML/CFT obligations under UN Security Council Resolutions (UNSCRs) and domestic regulations. However, entities and individuals within Kuwait continue to remain a funding source for terrorist and extremist groups.
In June, the parliament passed a cybercrime law that criminalized online fundraising for terrorist purposes. The law closed a counterterrorism finance loophole that allowed online extremist fundraising and facilitation.
The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor (MOSAL) took several steps to regulate and monitor charitable fund-raising, and – in cooperation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs – assure the legitimacy of foreign beneficiaries. In 2015, MOSAL detected 80 violations of illegal fundraising, leading to the dissolution of two licensed and a number of unlicensed charities.
New regulations required individuals and organizations to register and apply for permits. MOSAL curtailed fundraising via social media, with staff assigned to search for illegal online solicitations. In cooperation with the MOI, MOSAL took action against illegal fundraising by individuals, by unregistered groups, and in mosques during Ramadan.
For additional information on money laundering and financial crimes, see the 2016 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INSCR), Volume II, Money Laundering and Financial Crimes: http://www.state.gov/j/inl/rls/nrcrpt/index.htm.
Countering Violent Extremism: The Government of Kuwait has a number of local counter-messaging campaigns – often focused on religion – that it supports, reportedly on radio, television, and billboards. Media reported that the Minister of Interior issued a November Executive Order transferring the Center for Counseling and Rehabilitation from its current location within Kuwait City’s Central Prison to a new facility with an expanded faculty and a broadened mandate, in order to emulate the scope of the Muhammad bin Naif’s Center for Counselling and Rehabilitation in Saudi Arabia.
International and Regional Cooperation: Kuwait cooperated regionally and internationally on counterterrorism issues, including in the Global Counterterrorism Forum. Kuwait is a member of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism. Kuwaiti officials issued statements encouraging enhanced cooperation among Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and Arab League states on counterterrorism issues, and the Kuwaiti government hosted international meetings on subjects ranging from countering extremist ideology to combating terrorism financing. Kuwait participated in the August U.S.-GCC Counterterrorism and Border Security Working Group meeting in Riyadh.
In addition to bilateral cooperation with the United States, Kuwaiti security officials also worked with other international counterparts to conduct missions and exchange information.
Kuwait was the sole GCC member state that did not ratify the Gulf Security Pact, which would enhance regional counterterrorism cooperation potential.
Overview: Lebanon grappled with significant terrorist threats in 2015, both internally and on its borders as a result of worsening spillover from Syria. Hizballah, which fully mobilized in support of the Asad regime, and to a lesser extent individual Lebanese who supported various opposition forces, made Lebanon a magnet for violent retribution. After nearly a year of relative internal calm, the November 12 Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) suicide bombings in Beirut’s southern suburbs marked the capital’s deadliest terrorist attack in more than a decade and were reminiscent of the wave of Sunni terrorist attacks against Shia population centers and Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) targets in 2013-2014. Lebanon also faced a terrorist threat from hundreds of ISIL and al-Nusrah Front terrorists who operated along the porous, undemarcated eastern border with Syria and carried out guerrilla-like attacks against the LAF on a regular basis. The continued presence of these Syria-origin Sunni extremists in Lebanese territory underscored both the centrality of border security to Lebanon’s stability and the importance of enabling the Lebanese government to exercise its full sovereignty, as mandated by UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1701.
Despite the paralysis of the political decision-making apparatus, various institutions of the Lebanese state, including the LAF, Internal Security Forces (ISF), and Central Bank, continued to cooperate with international partners in combating terrorism and have scored some notable successes in the disruption of terrorist networks and in combating terrorist forces. The United States remained Lebanon’s closest counterterrorism partner, and the bilateral relationship is robust and growing. U.S. assistance focused on strengthening Lebanon’s security institutions so they can better exert sovereign authority and maintain border security in accordance with UNSCR 1701, and counter terrorist threats.
Ongoing internal political deadlock prevented the election of a new Lebanese president and weakened state function. In the absence of a president, the 24-member cabinet, which includes members of Hizballah, is paralyzed in political deadlock and has not met regularly since mid-2015. Lebanon’s enormous refugee crisis has also complicated efforts to maintain stability. A country of approximately four million, Lebanon hosted nearly 1.1 million registered refugees from Syria as of the end of 2015. Lebanese authorities were challenged not only by the significant burden the refugees placed on its financial and natural resources, infrastructure, and host communities, but also by fears of potential militant recruiting among the refugee population. ISIL and Nusrah Front’s use of informal refugee settlements near the northeastern town of Aarsal in the Beqaa Valley further hardened Lebanese attitudes towards Syrian refugees.
Hizballah, with considerable support from Iran, remained the most capable terrorist group in Lebanon, enjoying popular support among many Lebanese Shia and allied Christians. Hizballah continued to operate as an armed militia beyond the control of the state and as a powerful political actor that can hobble or topple the government. Hizballah justified its stockpile of arms for its “resistance” to any potential conflict with Israel. The government did not take significant action to disarm Hizballah or eliminate its safe havens in Lebanese territory. Despite Lebanon’s official dissociation policy regarding the Syrian conflict, Hizballah accelerated its military role in support of the Syrian regime in 2015 and has proved to be a necessary force in propping up the regime. Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has had a presence in Lebanon since the early 1980s and coordinated closely with Hizballah on military operations and training. Hizballah engaged in terrorist activity against Israel on January 28 when it attacked an Israeli military convoy near the Shebaa Farms area, killing two Israeli soldiers and wounding several others. The attack was the most severe eruption of violence between Israel and Hizballah in the area since 2006.
Other designated terrorist groups, including Hamas, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine General Command, Asbat al-Ansar, Fatah al-Islam, Fatah al-Intifada, Jund al-Sham, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, and several other splinter groups, continued to operate within Lebanon's borders, although primarily out of Lebanon’s 12 Palestinian refugee camps. ISIL and Nusrah Front also had a limited, but growing presence in the camps. The LAF did not maintain a presence in the camps, but it conducted limited operations and patrols near the camps and across Lebanon to counter terrorist threats.
Lebanon is a member of the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL and the Foreign Minister has attended several counter-ISIL Coalition ministerial meetings. The Lebanese security forces seek to limit the ISIL threat at home, including the flow of foreign terrorist fighters both to and from Syria, by working to secure the porous, ungoverned border with Syria and conducting counterterrorism operations within Lebanon. The LAF and other security services also were actively engaged in monitoring potential ISIL elements in Lebanon, disrupting their activities and networks, and arresting those suspected of plotting terrorist attacks. The government expanded its efforts to counter ISIL messaging, but these efforts were not coordinated among different government agencies. In accordance with UNSCR 2178, the Lebanese government increased security measures at airports and border crossings to prevent the flow of ISIL and Nusrah Front fighters to Syria and Iraq. However, the Lebanese government has not taken significant action to prevent Hizballah from sending its fighters to Syria and Iraq.
2015 Terrorist Incidents:
- On January 10, two suicide bombers attacked a café in the Tripoli neighborhood of Jabal Mohsen, killing nine people and wounding more than 30. Al-Nusrah Front claimed responsibility for the attack.
- On January 28, Hizballah fired two laser-guided, anti-tank missiles from Lebanese territory at an Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) convoy near the Shebaa Farms area south of the Blue Line, killing two IDF soldiers and wounding several others.
- On November 5, at least five people were killed and several others wounded after a suicide bomber detonated his suicide vest at a religious center in Aarsal. Lebanese authorities believed that ISIL carried out the attack, which targeted a group of Syrian Sunni clerics with close ties to the Nusrah Front.
- On November 12, two suicide bombers attacked a crowded street in Burj al-Barajneh, a neighborhood closely associated with Hizballah in the southern suburbs of Beirut, killing at least 45 civilians and wounding nearly 250 more. ISIL claimed responsibility for the attack, which was the deadliest in Beirut in more than a decade.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: Lebanon does not have a comprehensive counterterrorism law, but several articles of Lebanon’s criminal code (1943) are used to prosecute acts of terrorism. Implementation of these articles has at times been hindered by Lebanon’s complex confessional political system, however, and also by Hizballah restricting access to attack sites that were within areas under its control. The cabinet did not consider legislative initiatives that could potentially threaten Hizballah’s operations, as the presence of Hizballah and its political allies in the government make the requisite consensus on such actions impossible. State security agencies remained functional in combating non-Hizballah terrorism, but would benefit from stronger political support.
The LAF, ISF, Directorate of General Security (DGS), and Directorate of State Security (DGSS) are the primary agencies responsible for combating terrorism. Despite notable counterterrorism successes in 2015, the law enforcement capacity of these agencies was overstretched due to the magnitude of the country’s terrorism-related threats. Although cooperation among the services was inconsistent, all services have taken steps to improve information sharing and are receptive to additional training to expand capacity. Lebanon has been a participant in the Department of State’s Antiterrorism Assistance program since 2006; this assistance has focused on border security as well as building law enforcement’s investigative and leadership capabilities. The Department of State has provided assistance to improve the capabilities of the ISF through a multi-year program that includes construction of training facilities and establishment of a secure radio communications system, provision of vehicles, protective gear, and other types of equipment, and a wide range of training and mentoring activities. The Department of State also provided corrections training to bolster the ISF’s limited capacity to manage its overcrowded prisons. The ISF has worked to prevent terrorist recruitment and the direction of terrorist activities by prison inmates who, in many cases, have access to cell phones and the internet.
The LAF has primary responsibility for securing Lebanon’s borders, but worked collaboratively with other agencies to prevent the infiltration of terrorists and illicit goods. The services have increased security measures at airports, border crossings, and ports to prevent the flow of ISIL and Nusrah Front fighters to Syria and Iraq, with a special emphasis on detecting counterfeit passports. The DGS, under the Interior Ministry, controls immigration and passport services, and it uses an electronic database to collect biographic data for travelers at all points of entry. Lebanon collects and disseminates Passenger Name Records (PNR) on commercial flights, but does not collect advance passenger information (API).
The Lebanese security services disrupted multiple terrorist networks and made several high-profile arrests in 2015. On August 15, the DGS arrested Sheikh Ahmed al-Assir, a radical Salafist cleric who was one of Lebanon’s most wanted fugitives since June 2013, when Assir and his supporters killed 18 soldiers during clashes with the LAF near Sidon. Information obtained during Assir’s interrogation led to arrests of more than a dozen other suspected terrorists. In mid-November, the Lebanese security services unraveled terrorist networks in Beirut and Tripoli connected with ISIL’s November 12 suicide attacks in Burj al-Barajneh. One ISF raid yielded 150 kilograms of explosives and three suicide vests.
On May 13, the Lebanese Military Court sentenced former Lebanese Information Minister Michel Samaha to four and a half years in prison for "transporting explosives from Syria to Lebanon in an attempt to assassinate Lebanese political and religious leaders" in 2012. Procedural errors and public outcry over the relatively light sentence prompted a retrial, which began in July but did not produce a new verdict by the end of 2015.
The United States maintains close ties with the Lebanese security services and could expect significant investigative support in a terrorism case affecting U.S. citizens or interests. Lebanese authorities maintained that amnesty for Lebanese involved in acts of violence during the 1975-90 civil wars prevented terrorism prosecutions of concern to the United States.
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Lebanon is a member of the Middle East and North Africa Financial Action Task Force, a Financial Action Task Force-style regional body; and its financial intelligence unit, the Special Investigation Commission (SIC), is a member of the Egmont Group. It also participates in the Counter-ISIL Finance Group co-chaired by the United States, Saudi Arabia, and Italy. Lebanese government officials and financial leaders have also met repeatedly with the U.S. government regarding the Hizballah International Financing Prevention Act of 2015, and said that they would fully comply with the new regulations.
Lebanon’s Central Bank, the Banque du Liban (BdL), issued Intermediate Circular No. 393 on June 30, amending Basic Circular No. 69, strengthening anti-money laundering/countering the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) controls on money remitters. On November 13, Parliament endorsed three laws intended to strengthen Lebanon’s AML/CFT regime, which were published in the Official Gazette on November 24. These included:
- Law No.44 amending AML/CFT Law 318/2001 to further widen categories of reporting entities and increase the list of predicate crimes; it also allows confiscation of assets and sharing of confiscated assets with concerned countries;
- Law No. 42 requiring the declaration of cross-border transportation of cash; and
- Law No. 43 on the exchange of tax information, which would authorize the Ministry of Finance to join bilateral and multilateral agreements to exchange information related to tax evasion and tax fraud.
In 2015, the ISF received two requests for assistance with terrorism cases from INTERPOL; the ISF investigated the two cases and forwarded them to the Public Prosecutor. The ISF did not receive any allegations of suspicious financial transactions that led to terrorism finance cases in 2015. The SIC is an independent legal entity empowered to investigate suspicious financial transactions and to freeze assets, reporting that it had received three cases in 2015 regarding individuals with alleged terrorism ties and alleged terrorism financing transactions. The SIC froze the individuals’ financial assets (amounts undisclosed) in Lebanon’s banking sector and forwarded the cases to the public prosecutor for further investigation.
For further information on money laundering and financial crimes, see the 2016 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), Volume II, Money Laundering and Financial Crimes: http://www.state.gov/j/inl/rls/nrcrpt/index.htm.
Countering Violent Extremism: Several government institutions have programs that seek to counter violent extremism (CVE), but there was no overall national strategy in place. The Foreign Minister attended the Leaders’ Summit on Countering ISIL and Violent Extremism hosted by President Obama in September 2015 on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, and MFA representatives have attended U.S.-hosted working level meetings on counter-ISIL messaging. The LAF is developing a comprehensive counter-messaging strategy that amplifies moderate voices and uses TV spots, social media, billboards, and SMS texts to counter extremist narratives. There were no programs to rehabilitate and/or reintegrate terrorists into mainstream society.
International and Regional Cooperation: The LAF partnered with several nations on a bilateral basis to receive training programs that focused on strengthening its counterterrorism capabilities. Lebanon is a member of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the Arab League, and attended Global Counterterrorism Forum meetings on counter-ISIL efforts. Lebanon continued to voice its commitment to fulfilling other relevant UNSCRs, including 1559 (2004), 1680 (2006), and 1701 (2006). The Special Tribunal for Lebanon, an international body investigating the 2005 assassination of former PM Rafiq Hariri, received Lebanon’s annual contribution of approximately US $37.5 million on September 21.
Overview: In 2015, the continued conflict between the then internationally-recognized government in Tobruk and the Tripoli-based faction allowed violent extremist groups to expand their foothold in Libya. Although all sides in the conflict claimed to reject terrorism, security forces and armed groups affiliated with both sides were more focused on their opponents in the internal conflict than on combatting violent extremist groups. Libya’s porous borders, vast uncontrolled weapons stockpiles, and critically weak law enforcement institutions continued to make it a permissive environment for terrorist groups, including the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), Ansar al-Sharia, and other groups. There were reports of infighting between ISIL and other Libyan violent extremist groups and conservative militias, including the expulsion of ISIL from the eastern city of Darnah by a coalition of competing extremist groups.
As the internal conflict between the rival factions continued in 2015, terrorist groups were able to exploit the lack of effective state institutions to increase greatly their influence in Libya. ISIL expanded its control of the area around the coastal city of Sirte, which it initially seized in 2014. ISIL imposed its strict form of sharia law and instituted public punishment and executions. Following an attempted uprising against ISIL in Sirte in August, ISIL reportedly crucified four men; according to media, others have been executed since then for failing to adhere to ISIL rules or for being “spies” or “sorcerers.” Additionally, ISIL is believed to be responsible for a series of killings in Ajdabiya targeting military and religious leaders opposed to ISIL.
A coalition of conservative militia and some violent Islamist extremists remained in control of the eastern city of Darnah, which has lacked virtually any state presence since the 2011 revolution. ISIL, which had previously controlled the city, was expelled in June by the Shura Council of Mujahideen in Darnah, an umbrella organization consisting of conservative militias and Salafist groups opposed to ISIL, including the U.S.-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization Ansar al-Shari’a in Darnah. In 2015, violent extremist groups in Darnah reportedly employed summary executions and public floggings to enforce their interpretation of sharia law, and carried out assassinations and beheadings of civil society activists, judges, and security officials.
Conflict in Benghazi continued between General Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) and the Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council, an umbrella organization of extremist groups and anti-Haftar militia. The LNA has been unsuccessful in its stated goal of removing violent extremist organizations from Benghazi.
2015 Terrorist Incidents: The following list of terrorist incidents is designed to highlight major attacks believed to be perpetrated by violent extremist groups against western, diplomatic, Libyan government, and civil society targets. It is not exhaustive and does not encompass the numerous acts of violence perpetrated by the parties to the current political conflict, which have each accused their opponents of conducting kidnappings, assassinations, and attacks on civilian infrastructure such as airports and seaports. The list of incidents in Ajdabiya, Benghazi, Darnah, and Sirte should not be considered comprehensive. Frequently, there were no claims of responsibility for assassinations or other attacks.
- In January, ISIL declared the city of Sirte part of the group’s caliphate and seized the local radio station, a hospital, and other government buildings.
- On January 27, gunmen attacked the Corinthia Hotel in Tripoli, killing 10. ISIL claimed responsibility for the attack.
- On February 15, a video published on social media depicted the beheading of 21 Coptic Christian migrant workers, all but one of them Egyptian. ISIL’s “Tripoli Province” claimed responsibility for the killings.
- On February 22, two bombs exploded at the residence of the Iranian ambassador to Libya. The residence was unoccupied and no one was injured. ISIL claimed responsibility for the bombing.
- On April 13, a gunman opened fire outside the South Korean Embassy in Tripoli, killing two and wounding one. On the same day, a bomb exploded outside the Moroccan Embassy in Tripoli. There were no casualties.
- On April 19, a video published on social media depicted the execution by beheading and gunshot of approximately 30 Ethiopian Christians. ISIL claimed responsibility for the killings.
- On April 20, there was an explosion outside the Spanish Embassy in Tripoli; there were no casualties.
- On August 12, members of ISIL killed Sheikh Khalid Ben Rajah, a local imam in Sirte, after he refused to relinquish control of his mosque. An uprising against ISIL in Sirte resulted, which led to ISIL killing at least twenty members of the uprising and hanging some of their corpses from street lights.
- In late August, ISIL conducted multiple public beheadings and crucifixions in Sirte.
- On October 16, ISIL beheaded two Libyan men in Sirte accused of sorcery.
- On October 18, a video was published depicting the killing of a Christian man from South Sudan, for which ISIL claimed responsibility.
- On October 23, a political demonstration against the UN-led Political Dialogue was shelled; the attack killed 12 and injured 39. No group claimed responsibility for the attack.
- On October 29, Salafist preacher Sheikh Suleiman Kabylie was killed when a car bomb exploded beneath his vehicle. He had been an outspoken critic of ISIL and had denounced terrorism on social media. ISIL claimed responsibility for his killing.
- On November 6, a Salafist preacher opposed to ISIL, Faraj al-Oraibi, was killed when exiting his mosque in Ajdabiya.
- On November 26, four men with Salafist ties were killed in Ajdabiya, purportedly for their perceived opposition to ISIL and Ansar al-Sharia. The Libyan Foreign Minister claimed on December 1 that ISIL had killed 37 people in Ajdabiya as of that date.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: Libya lacks a comprehensive counterterrorism law, although the Libyan penal code criminalizes offenses prejudicial to state security, including terrorism, the promotion of terrorist acts, and the handling of money in support of such acts. In 2013, the General National Congress (GNC) – at that time Libya’s official legislature – adopted laws outlining a plan to disband non-state militias and integrate them into state security forces; however, neither law has been implemented. Libya has ratified the AU’s Convention on the Prevention and Combating of Terrorism, which requires states to criminalize terrorist acts under their national laws.
The Libyan government, in the midst of a protracted internal conflict, proved incapable of confronting the rapid expansion of terrorist groups in Libya. Neither the then internationally-recognized government in Tobruk nor the rival faction in Tripoli produced a strategy to combat the growing terrorist threat. Nor was there any new legislation passed to confront the growing threat of terrorism in Libya.
Even prior to the outbreak of large-scale violence in July 2014, Libyan law enforcement personnel lacked the capacity to detect, deter, respond to, or investigate terrorist incidents. There were no reported terrorism-related prosecutions in 2015. In many parts of Libya, security and law enforcement functions were provided by armed militias rather than state institutions. National police and security forces were fragmented, inadequately trained and equipped, and lacked clear reporting chains and coordination mechanisms. Security and law enforcement officials, including prosecutors and judges, have been targeted in kidnappings and assassinations, resulting in the continued suspension of court operations in Benghazi and Darnah. ISIL declared its own police presence in Sirte in December. Libya’s military was similarly weak, with units often breaking down along local, tribal, or factional lines. Formal security structures were often overmatched by non-state armed groups. Counterterrorism operations conducted by Libyan Special Operations Forces have failed to significantly reduce the level of terrorist violence, bombings, assassinations, or kidnappings in Benghazi.
The Libyan government lacked a comprehensive border management strategy and was unable to secure the country’s thousands of miles of land and maritime borders, enabling the illicit flow of goods, weapons, migrants, and foreign terrorist fighters that pose serious security challenges to the region. Libyan border security forces were generally poorly trained and underequipped, and frequently participated in illicit cross-border trade. Border security infrastructure damaged and looted during the 2011 revolution has not been repaired or replaced, and the ongoing conflict has affected border security infrastructure along Libya’s border with Tunisia. The gunmen in the March 18 attack on the Bardo Museum in Tunis and the June 26 attack on the Riu Imperial Marhaba Hotel in Sousse were Tunisian nationals, but reportedly trained in Libya before the attacks. Security at Libya’s airports was minimal, with limited document screening and no utilization of Passenger Name Record systems or biometric technology. Libya also lacked the resources, manpower, and training to conduct sufficient maritime patrols to interdict or dissuade illicit maritime trafficking and irregular migration. According to Italian officials, more than 100,000 migrants arrived in Italy in 2015, many transiting through Libya. Existing legislation outlining the responsibilities of various government agencies in the area of border management was vague and often contradictory, resulting in ad hoc and poorly coordinated efforts.
Previous international border security efforts, particularly the EU Border Assistance Mission to Libya (EUBAM), remained on hold, with staff relocated to Tunisia and a considerable reduction in personnel. EUBAM remained in contact with Libyan border officials, primarily those from the Libyan Coast Guard and the Department for Combatting Illegal Migration.
Libya has historically expressed desire to cooperate in the investigation of terrorist attacks against U.S. citizens and interests, including the September 2012 killing of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans at U.S. government facilities in Benghazi. However, Libyan support to these investigations has been limited given the overall weak capacity in Libya’s law enforcement institutions and complications from the country’s political conflict. In 2013, the Libyan Ministry of Justice signed a Declaration of Intent to facilitate law enforcement cooperation with the United States on investigations, including that of the 1988 Pan Am Flight 103 bombing.
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Libya is a member of the Middle East and North Africa Financial Action Task Force, a Financial Action Task Force-style regional body. There was little reliable data on Libya’s 2015 anti-money laundering and counterterrorism financing progress or efforts, and Libyan government and financial institutions generally lacked the ability to identify and interdict illicit financial flows. For further information on money laundering and financial crimes, see the 2016 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), Volume II, Money Laundering and Financial Crimes: http://www.state.gov/j/inl/rls/nrcrpt/index.htm.
Countering Violent Extremism: The Libyan government has not adopted a comprehensive strategy for countering violent extremism. Continuing online threats, kidnappings, and assassinations of activists who speak out against violent extremists contributed to a culture of intimidation and self-censorship.
International and Regional Cooperation: Since the outbreak of large-scale violence in July 2014, nearly all diplomatic missions in Libya withdrew from the country, including the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL). The political conflict and lack of an international presence in Libya severely limited cooperation on counterterrorism activities. Previous bilateral programs, which sought to increase the capacity of Libya’s law enforcement and defense institutions, have been on hold since 2014.
Overview: Morocco has a comprehensive counterterrorism strategy that includes vigilant security measures, regional and international cooperation, and counter-radicalization policies. The government has treated counterterrorism as a top policy priority since the country experienced suicide bombing attacks in Casablanca in 2003, and that focus was reinforced by further attacks in 2007 and 2011. In 2015, Morocco’s counterterrorism efforts mitigated the risk of terrorism, although the country continued to face threats, largely from numerous small, independent violent extremist cells. Those groups and individuals, referred to collectively as adherents of the so-called Salafiyya Jihadiyya ideology, remained isolated from one another, small in size, and limited in capabilities. Some claimed to be inspired by or affiliated with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
During the year, authorities reported the disruption of multiple groups with ties to international networks that included ISIL. Al Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and ISIL continued efforts to recruit Moroccans for combat in other countries, and there were reports of Moroccans attempting to join AQIM, ISIL, and other violent extremists in Libya, Iraq, and Syria. The Ministry of Interior (MOI) estimated that approximately 1,500 Moroccans have joined terrorist organizations since 2011, with 719 fighting alongside ISIL. The Moroccan government remained concerned about the potential return of veteran Moroccan foreign terrorist fighters from those conflict zones to conduct possible terrorist attacks at home. The government was also concerned about Moroccans becoming radicalized to violence during their stays in Western Europe. ISIL continued to call for attacks against the Moroccan monarchy and prominent Moroccan institutions and individuals.
Morocco is a member of the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL and has made contributions and commitments to the effort. Morocco also participates in the Counter-ISIL Finance Group. The government was increasingly proactive in 2015 to both stem the flow of foreign terrorist fighters and to counter ISIL propaganda. According to local media, Moroccan security forces carried out 149 terrorism-related arrests between January and November, including an Azerbaijani and two Turkish nationals.
In June, the Government of Morocco enacted significant amendments to the criminal code to address the foreign terrorist fighter phenomenon. The provisions of the law – criminalizing joining, or attempting to join a terrorist group; receiving terrorist training; and terrorist recruiting; take a substantial step towards implementing Morocco’s international obligations under UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 2178.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: Morocco enacted comprehensive counterterrorism legislation in 2003. In June 2015, amendments to address the threat of foreign terrorist fighters were published in the official gazette. The new legislation expands the definition of terrorist offenses to cover acts or attempts to join a terrorist group as well as involvement in recruitment and training activities. The new law also extends the jurisdiction of the national courts to allow the prosecution of foreign nationals who commit terrorist crimes outside Morocco if they are present on Moroccan soil.
Moroccan law enforcement units aggressively targeted and effectively dismantled terrorist cells within the country by leveraging intelligence collection, police work, and collaboration with regional and international partners. The Morocco Central Bureau of Judicial Investigation (BCIJ) is the primary law enforcement agency responsible for counterterrorism. The BCIJ was established in 2015 as a central institution with the goal of bolstering security governance nationwide within a legal and transparent framework. Reporting to the General Directorate for Territorial Surveillance (DGST), the BCIJ operates under the supervision of the public prosecutor of the Court of Appeals. Penal Procedure code grants DGST agents the rank of judicial police officers, allowing them to conduct investigations, question suspects, and make arrests. The new Penal Procedure code also grants DGST officers the recourse to do electronic tracking and telephone surveillance upon receiving written consent from the Court of Appeals or a judge. The government has publicly committed itself not to use the struggle against terrorism to deprive individuals of their rights. It has emphasized adherence to human rights standards and the increased transparency of law enforcement procedures as part of its approach.
The General Directorate for National Security (DGSN) is the body primarily responsible for handling border inspections at established ports of entry such as Casablanca’s Mohammed V Airport, where most border crossings occur. Law enforcement officials and private carriers work regularly with the United States to detect and deter individuals attempting to transit illegally. Moroccan government authorities worked directly with U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Regional Carrier Liaison Group and the DHS Homeland Security Investigations Attaché office at the U.S. Consulate in Casablanca to address watchlisted or mala fide travelers. Moroccan government airport authorities have excellent capabilities in detecting fraudulent documents but lacked biometric screening capabilities.
Morocco continued to participate in the Department of State’s Antiterrorism Assistance (ATA) program, which provided the DGSN and the Royal Gendarmerie with training in investigating terrorist incidents, post-blast investigations, cyber forensics, crime scene forensics, critical incident management, and executive leadership. Morocco and the United States continued implementing an ATA trilateral agreement to partner in the development of counterterrorism capacity and cooperation in the Maghreb and Sahel regions, and worked together to train law enforcement from a Sahelian partner country in Critical Incident Management skills.
Morocco also continued to partner with the United States to improve the police criminal investigation process through the development and implementation of chain of custody and evidence management procedures; forensic evidence collection and analysis, including DNA; and mentoring and training. Morocco participated in Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF) and Department of Justice programs to improve technical investigative training for police and prosecutors. DGSN, Moroccan Customs, and the Royal Gendarmerie were active partners and participants in DHS-sponsored training events on border security, financial investigation, and counter-proliferation topics. Finally, Moroccan government officials participated in several U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation-led courses to improve capacity in intelligence analysis, facial recognition, and leadership and management.
Morocco’s counterterrorism efforts and cooperation with international partners led to numerous disruptions of alleged terrorist cells and prosecutions of associated individuals, including these cases:
- On March 22, the BCIJ announced it had dismantled a cell of 13 members who pledged allegiance to ISIL and were plotting to conduct attacks against Moroccan security forces, steal their arms, and use them in their operations. The BCIJ also seized firearms and a large amount of ammunition. The cell operated in multiple cities, including Tangier, Marrakech, and Laayoune.
- On May 19, the BCIJ dismantled a 10-member terrorist network involved in the recruitment of Moroccan fighters for ISIL through the creation of sleeper cells. BCIJ added that the group was receiving financial and logistical support from ISIL leaders and included experts in making explosives.
- On June 3, the BCIJ dismantled a terrorist cell composed of nine members operating in various cities, including Casablanca. The cell contained an alleged former ISIL member who was recruiting fighters for Iraq and Syria.
- On July 9, the BCIJ dismantled an eight-member terrorist cell involved in the recruitment and sending of Moroccan fighters to Syria and Iraq through agents in Turkey. Cell members pledged allegiance to ISIL and operated in Casablanca, Tangier, and Salé.
- In December, the BCIJ dismantled a nine-member cell, which it labeled the most dangerous ISIL-affiliated group arrested up until then. According to local media, the cell was close to carrying out a series of synchronized bombings in various cities with plans to acquire security forces’ weapons and to kidnap prominent personalities.
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Morocco is a member of the Middle East and North Africa Financial Action Task Force, a Financial Action Task Force (FATF)-style regional body. Its financial intelligence unit, the Unit de Traitemant du Renseignement Financier (UTRF), is a member of the Egmont Group. Morocco continued to make progress in the counterterrorism finance domain in 2015. At the end of 2014, the parliament voted to support the Council of Europe Convention on Laundering, Search, Seizure, and Confiscation of the Proceeds from Crime and on the Financing of Terrorism.
Operationally, the human resource and logistical capacities of the UTRF have increased. During 2014, when the most recent data was available, UTRF received 305 suspicious transaction reports of suspected money laundering violations from Moroccan financial institutions and four were related to terrorism financing. The UTRF has signed memoranda of understanding facilitating information exchange with regional FIUs. The UTRF is also working to update current legislation to better implement UNSCR 1373 and the UN 1267/1989/2253 ISIL (Da’esh) and al-Qa’ida sanctions regime. A procedure for these cases already exists, but this update will institute a formal mechanism. Finally, in alignment with the 2012 FATF Recommendations, the UTRF is preparing a national risk assessment intended to identify threats and vulnerabilities facing Morocco regarding money laundering and terrorism financing in order to plan and execute more effective counter measures.
Moroccan officials are having success in detecting terrorism financing. In November, a joint BNPJ and BCIJ operation arrested two Turkish nationals and a Moroccan who were involved in diverting national telephone operator’s communication lines to sell stolen services to raise funds for ISIL. The group had ties with ISIL operational leaders and intended to fund ISIL activities and facilitate the return of foreign terrorist fighters to Europe.
For further information on money laundering and financial crimes, see the 2016 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), Volume II, Money Laundering and Financial Crimes: http://www.state.gov/j/inl/rls/nrcrpt/2014/vol2/index.htm.
Countering Violent Extremism: Morocco has a comprehensive strategy for countering violent extremism that prioritizes economic and human development goals in addition to tight control of the religious sphere and messaging. Morocco has accelerated its rollout of education and employment initiatives for youth – the population identified as most vulnerable to radicalization and recruitment to violence – and has also expanded the legal rights and political and social empowerment of women. To counter what the government perceives as the dangerous importation of violent Islamist extremist ideologies, Morocco has developed a national strategy to affirm and further institutionalize Morocco’s widespread adherence to the Maliki-Ashari school of Sunni Islam.
In the past decade, Morocco has focused on upgrading mosques, promoting the teaching of relatively moderate Islam, and strengthening the Ministry of Endowments and Islamic Affairs (MEIA). The MEIA has developed an educational curriculum for Morocco’s nearly 50,000 imams in its version of relatively moderate Sunni Islam. The MEIA-affiliated Mohammedan League of Ulema produces scholarly research on the nation’s Islamic values, ensures conformity in educational curricula, and conducts outreach to youth on religious and social topics. To counter the radicalization of Moroccans living abroad, the Moroccan Council of Ulema for Europe and the Minister Delegate for Moroccans Living Abroad also undertook similar programs to promote religious moderation in Moroccan expatriate communities in Europe. Throughout 2015, Morocco expanded its regional counter-radicalization efforts to include training imams from France, Gabon, Guinea, Kenya, Libya, Mali, Nigeria, and Tunisia.
The Department of State has supported the Moroccan Penitentiary Administration’s efforts to reform and modernize the management of its prison system, including increased focus on rehabilitation and successful reintegration into civilian life upon completion of a prisoner’s sentence. The Department of State has assisted the Penitentiary Administration in creating and implementing a prisoner classification tool to ensure inmates are living within the lowest security environment required based on the threat they represent. This helps keep violent extremists segregated from the mainstream prison population, limiting their ability to influence and recruit other inmates. The improved prison management, rehabilitation efforts, and segregation of violent extremist inmates all serve to deter radicalization and recruitment of inmates. USAID’s Favorable Opportunities to Reinforce Self-Advancement in Today’s Youth project addressed youth marginalization in areas known for recruitment by extremist organizations, helping them stay in school, develop skills, and become active in the community.
International and Regional Cooperation: Morocco is a founding member of the Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF) and a member of the Global Initiative to Counter Nuclear Terrorism. In 2015, Morocco continued its leadership role in the GCTF, serving as co-chair with the Netherlands of the Foreign Terrorist Fighters Working Group. In April, Morocco hosted the GCTF-inspired Global Community Engagement and Resilience Fund board meeting to address countering violent extremism goals. Under the auspices of the GCTF, Morocco and the United States co-lead the Border Security Initiative. In July, Morocco hosted the inaugural conference of the UN Counter-Terrorism Centre-GCTF Border Security Initiative in Morocco. Morocco is a founding member of the GCTF-inspired Malta-based International Institute for Justice and the Rule of Law, and served on its governing board. The 30 members of the GCTF also agreed that Morocco would assume the GCTF co-chair role from Turkey in April 2016.
Morocco contributes air forces to the counter-ISIL campaign in Syria and Iraq. Morocco trains forces from friendly nations such as Chad, Cote d’Ivoire, and Mali. As a major non-NATO ally and a Mediterranean Dialogue (5+5) partner in the EU’s Barcelona Process, Morocco participates in the 5+5 Defense Initiative, which brings together five European and five North African countries to address security issues in the Mediterranean. Morocco participated in multilateral training exercises such as the maritime-focused PHOENIX EXPRESS and the FLINTLOCK regional security operations exercises, and hosts the annual AFRICAN LION regional exercise as well as its own MAGHREB MANTLET disaster response exercise. These engagements have enhanced border security and improved capabilities to counter illicit traffic and terrorism.
Both Morocco and Algeria participate in 5+5, the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership, and the GCTF; however, political disagreement over the status of Western Sahara remained an impediment to bilateral and regional counterterrorism cooperation in 2015.
Overview: Oman is an important regional counterterrorism partner that worked actively to prevent terrorists from conducting attacks within Oman and neighboring countries, or using the country for safe haven or to transport terrorists, weapons, and material. Omani officials engaged regularly with U.S. officials on the need to counter violent extremism and terrorism. The Government of Oman sought training and equipment from U.S. government and commercial entities and from other countries to support its efforts to control its land, air, and maritime borders. Oman used U.S. security assistance to improve its counterterrorism tactics, techniques, and procedures.
Oman remained a member of the Global Coalition to Counter the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), and also participated in the Leader’s Summit on Countering ISIL and Violent Extremism hosted by President Obama in New York that took place on the margins of the UN General Assembly in September.
Throughout the year, Oman attended Counter-ISIL Campaign Planning Conferences hosted by U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), and Omani military representatives attended the Counter-ISIL Chief of Defense Conferences hosted by CENTCOM. The Omani government issued a series of official statements condemning ISIL terrorist attacks in 2015, most notably the immolation killing of a Jordanian Air Force pilot in February, and the mass beheadings of 21 Egyptians near Tripoli, Libya.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: Counterterrorism investigations, crisis responses, and border security capabilities were limited by local capacity and a challenging operating environment due to Oman’s long and remote borders with Yemen and Saudi Arabia, and its extensive coastline. There was, however, daily communication and coordination among the many agencies with jurisdiction over counterterrorism. Roles and responsibilities between law enforcement and the armed forces are not clearly delineated; however, the Sultan’s Special Forces and the Royal Oman Police Special Task Force are Oman’s primary entities responsible for counterterrorism.
The Government of Oman recognizes the need to improve its capabilities and takes advantage of U.S. counterterrorism and law enforcement training and assistance. In 2015, the Royal Oman Police Coast Guard, the Directorate General of Customs, and the Royal Army of Oman participated in U.S. Export Control and Related Border Security (EXBS) programs designed to assist Omani personnel in enhancing interdiction capabilities at official ports of entry on land and at seaports, in green border areas, and along the maritime border. Oman participated in a Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)-wide Regional Workshop on the Development of Strategic Trade Controls hosted by the EU and the Department of State in August, with the goal of harmonizing customs procedures and the regulatory framework within the GCC.
Oman participated in the Department of State’s Antiterrorism Assistance program, which included training on maritime border security, cyber security, investigative information management, digital forensics, and critical incident management for Omani security officials representing a number of civilian agencies and the Royal Army of Oman. U.S. Army Central Command conducted a border security seminar in 2015 for Omani military units responsible for patrolling Oman’s borders, and several other subject matter expert exchanges with the Royal Oman Police, Coast Guard, and Royal Oman Police-Special Task Force.
Omani authorities continued to make progress on construction of a fence along the border with Yemen to deter entry into Oman without inspection along the long and remote border.
The major deterrents to more effective law enforcement and border security are limited resources, nascent interagency coordination, and the need for continued training to develop advanced law enforcement skills. Oman’s border with Yemen, which features extremely rugged, mountainous terrain, further challenges border security efforts.
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Oman is a member of the Middle East and North Africa Financial Action Task Force (MENAFATF). In April, Oman hosted the 21st meeting of the MENAFATF. Local media reported that in February, Oman signed a legal and judicial assistance agreement with the Government of India, aimed at improving cooperation on investigations, prosecutions, and counterterrorism efforts.
In January, Oman, represented by the National Committee for Combating Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing, began the second phase of a technical cooperation program with the International Monetary Fund, subsequent to an IMF delegation’s visit to Oman.
For additional information on money laundering and financial crimes, see the 2016 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INSCR), Volume II, Money Laundering and Financial Crimes: http://www.state.gov/j/inl/rls/nrcrpt/index.htm.
Countering Violent Extremism: The Grand Mufti of Oman, Sheikh Ahmed al-Khalili, published an essay in October 2014, calling on all Muslims to reject extremism and promote tolerance – themes he again amplified in his popular and widely broadcast weekly television program. In March, al-Khalili met with Dr. Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Ibrahim al Shaikh, Chairman of the Shura Council of Saudi Arabia, to discuss the importance of discarding violence and fanaticism and promoting tolerance and presenting a tolerant picture of Islam. Additionally, the government continued to promote an advocacy campaign entitled “Islam in Oman” designed to encourage tolerant and inclusive Islamic practices. The project highlighted the commonalities between Islam’s sects and between Islam and other religions. A Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs program titled “Tolerance, Understanding, Coexistence – Oman’s Message of Islam” was part of the government’s effort to enhance interfaith dialogue. The nature and scope of Oman’s initiatives to address domestic radicalization and recruitment to violence are unknown, but it is suspected that Oman maintains tightly controlled and non-public CVE initiatives in this area.
International and Regional Cooperation: Oman participates in the U.S.-GCC Strategic Cooperation Forum, and took part in the August U.S.-GCC Counterterrorism and Border Security Working group meeting in Riyadh. Oman regularly votes in favor of counterterrorism measures in the UNGA, the Arab League, the GCC, and the Organization for Islamic Cooperation.
Overview: The United States and Qatar maintained a strong partnership in the fight against terrorism. Qatar is a partner in the Global Coalition to Counter the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and has provided significant support in facilitating critical U.S. military operations in the region. Terrorist activity historically has been low in Qatar; restrictive immigration policies and security services capable of monitoring and disrupting extremist activities have kept the threat level low. U.S. agencies have an active and productive dialogue with their Qatari counterparts and work closely for the exchange and evaluation of terrorist-related information. The United States and Qatar collaborated to foster closer regional and international cooperation on counterterrorism, law enforcement, and rule of law activities.
In addition to hosting two U.S. military installations critical to Counter-ISIL Coalition efforts, Qatar offered to host a base to train-and-equip moderate Syrian opposition forces, and provided significant operational and logistical support for Coalition activities. Qatar’s Cabinet welcomed the December announcement of a new military alliance of thirty-four Islamic states led by Saudi Arabia to fight terrorism in “all its forms and manifestations, whatever their sources and justifications.”
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: The Qatari government’s legislation enacted in 2004, 2010, and 2014 to address terrorism, terrorism financing, and related offenses, complements other criminal laws. The 2004 Law on Combating Terrorism sets forth broad provisions for defining and prosecuting terrorist-related activities in Qatar against the State, including prohibitions on providing information, training, weapons, financing, and material support to terrorists and terrorist organizations; and creating, directing, or using lawful entities, associations, or organizations to commit terrorist activities. The 2004 law also criminalizes collaboration with or joining organizations or groups located outside of Qatar that commit a terrorist crime, even if not against the State of Qatar, and outlaws obtaining military training from such organizations or groups abroad. The 2014 Cybercrime Prevention Law criminalizes terrorism-linked cyber offenses.
The State Security Bureau (also known as the Qatar State Security) maintained an aggressive posture toward monitoring internal extremist or terrorism-related activities. The internal security-focused Ministry of Interior was well positioned to respond to incidents with rapid reaction forces and trained internal security forces that routinely pursued and engaged in structured counterterrorism training and exercises. Both the State Security Bureau and the Ministry of Interior were responsive to the Emiri Diwan and Prime Minister level command and control structures, and efforts have been made to streamline interagency coordination and civil defense operations. The Office of Public Prosecution is tasked with prosecuting all crimes, including any related to terrorism, and plays a prosecutorial role in terrorism investigations. Oversight and management of industrial security is consolidated under the Ministry of Interior, with integrated responsibility for protecting the critical energy infrastructure, ports, and airport.
In 2015, Qatar requested to participate in the Department of State’s Antiterrorism Assistance program, and continued to participate in and host multilateral Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF) events. Also in 2015, Qatar hosted the UN Crime Congress and pledged specific funding to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) to help address violent extremism and radicalization among youth and vulnerable populations. Qatar also maintains an interagency National Anti-Terrorism Committee (NATC) within the Ministry of Interior composed of representatives from more than 10 government ministries and official institutions. The NATC is tasked with formulating Qatar’s counterterrorism policy, ensuring thorough and transparent interagency coordination within the government, fulfilling Qatar’s obligations to combat terrorism under international conventions, and participating in international or UN conferences on terrorism.
Qatar maintained its own watchlist of suspected terrorists that it used to screen passengers on international flights. Qatar also conducted vetting and background checks on all applicants for work visas. The Qatari government uses biometric scans for arrivals at its Hamad International Airport. Qatar engages in information sharing between its state-owned airline and foreign governments, including collecting and disseminating Advance Passenger Information and Passenger Name Records on commercial flights, and has agreed to enhanced information-sharing agreements with the United States.
Overall, Qatar’s security services workforce was reliant on manpower from third countries to fill rank-and-file law enforcement positions. This limitation applies across the board with all Qatari government institutions (except for the Qatar State Security and elite units of the Ministry of Interior’s internal security force), and is commensurate with the demographics of the nation. Lack of capacity and to some extent the lack of advanced training of non-Qataris contributed to a lack of effectiveness in basic police operations. However, Qatar’s reliance on technology has provided state-of-the-art electronic surveillance capacity, which enhanced Qatari security services’ effectiveness in the detection and monitoring of terrorist suspects.
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Qatar is a member of the Middle East and North Africa Financial Action Task Force, a Financial Action Task Force-style regional body; and its financial intelligence unit, the Qatar Financial Information Unit (QFIU), is a member of the Egmont Group. Qatar’s Combating Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing Law of 2010 requires Qatar’s Public Prosecutor to freeze the funds of individuals and organizations designated by the UN Security Council. The Qatar Central Bank worked with financial institutions to confirm compliance with respect to UN-designated entities and individuals, including Qatari citizens.
The Qatar Central Bank has a counterterrorism financing and anti-money laundering department that monitors suspicious accounts and transactions. The QFIU monitors suspicious accounts and transactions and files suspicious transaction reports (STRs). Non-profit organizations are not obliged to file STRs, but based on the charities law that was passed in 2014, every charity project and overseas financial transfer by a charity must be approved by the Charities Commission, a government interagency body that monitors charitable giving to prevent misused donations and terrorism financing.
Qatar has restructured its National Anti-Terrorism Committee, housed in the Ministry of Interior, to more effectively counter terrorism and continues to formulate a new and comprehensive counterterrorism framework. As part of ongoing efforts to curb terrorism financing, the State of Qatar issued new charities and cybercrime prevention laws in 2014. In 2015, the Qatari government froze assets and imposed travel bans on Qatari citizens Sa’d al-Ka’bi and Abd al-Latif al-Kawari after they were designated as terrorist financiers on the UN 1267/1989/2253 al-Qa’ida Sanctions List in 2015. Despite these efforts, entities and individuals within Qatar continue to serve as a source of financial support for terrorist and violent extremist groups, particularly regional al-Qa’ida affiliates such as the Nusrah Front. Qatar has made efforts to prosecute significant terrorist financiers.
Countering Violent Extremism: Qatar supports and has adopted a variety of initiatives to counter violent extremism (CVE). Qatar was instrumental in the 13th UN Crime Congress adoption of the “Doha Declaration,” an unprecedented framework wherein the international community agreed to focus on education to prevent extremism and criminality for the next five years, leading up to the 14th UN Crime Congress in 2020. In May, during the 13th Crime Congress, Qatar announced a new education initiative for young people displaced by conflict in the Middle East. In November, Qatar signed a four-year US $49 million funding agreement with the UNODC to deliver projects related to implementing the Doha Declaration, including projects on countering violent extremism through prisoner rehabilitation and social integration programs, and youth education for justice.
Qatar promotes and funds foundations and social enterprises engaged in implementing Qatar’s CVE strategies. Qatar brought the Research Center for Islam and Ethics to its flagship university as a means of fostering moderate readings of Islamic thought to help combat extremist interpretations on science, gender, education, politics and interfaith dialogue. In February, the Center sponsored a lecture titled “When Fiqh and Ethics Are Disconnected: ISIS as an Example.” Another aspect of Qatar’s CVE strategy is messaging to avert linking terrorism with religion. Qatar helped fund the social enterprise “Silatech,” which held regional workshops for youth to promote job creation, entrepreneurship, and the participation and engagement of young people in economic and social development as a deterrent from violent extremism.
Throughout 2015, Qatari leaders made strong public statements on the importance of countering violent extremism and radicalization to violence by addressing prevention, dialogue, and trust to communities most affected by the conflicts in the region. In December, Qatar’s Ambassador to the UN gave a speech calling for international support of the Global Community Engagement and Resilience Fund (GCERF). Qatar highlighted this fund as the first global initiative aimed at enhancing skills, potential, and resources of both the public and private sectors to support local projects, such as education, vocational training, civic engagement, media, and defense of women's rights in an attempt to increase resilience against violent extremism.
International and Regional Cooperation: Qatar is an active participant in the UN, GCTF, Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and the Arab League, in counterterrorism activities. Qatar participated in the August U.S.-GCC Counterterrorism and Border Security Working group meeting in Riyadh, and other regional meetings of interior ministries focused on counterterrorism cooperation. Qatar hosted the GCTF Coordinating Committee Meeting in May, and announced a US $5 million donation as a founding member of GCERF.
Overview: During 2015, the Saudi Arabian government continued to build and augment its capacity to counter terrorism and violent extremist ideologies. In addition to confronting the threat from al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the Saudis faced lethal attacks from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), and maintained a high-tempo of counterterrorism operations. Both AQAP and ISIL continued to encourage individual acts of terrorism within the Kingdom. The spate of ISIL attacks against Shia mosques, Saudi security forces, and Western targets in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states in 2015 underscored the threat posed to Saudi Arabia and the region by ISIL, and encouraged Saudi Arabia to work more closely with both Western and GCC partners to counter the ISIL threat.
Saudi Arabia continued to maintain a vigorous counterterrorism relationship with the United States, supported enhanced bilateral cooperation to ensure the safety of both U.S. and Saudi citizens within Saudi territories and abroad, and was an active participant in the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL. On December 14, the Saudi Arabian government announced a 34-state Islamic Counterterrorism Coalition to be headquartered in Riyadh that will focus on countering violent extremism and coordinating military efforts against all terrorist threats – including ISIL – in Muslim countries. Furthermore, the Saudi government remained attuned to the continuing threat from AQAP.
The Saudi government took a zero-tolerance stance on ISIL, condemning its activities and participating in coalition military action to defeat the group in Syria and Iraq. Its external military action against ISIL in Syria as a part of the U.S.-led coalition was complemented by an aggressive campaign by both official clerics and King Salman to discredit the group and condemn its activities as acts of terrorism. Saudi Arabia implemented UN Security Council Resolutions (UNSCRs) 2178 and 2199, and the UN 1267/1989/2253 ISIL (Da’esh) and al-Qa’ida sanctions regime; expanded existing counterterrorism programs and rhetoric to address the phenomenon of foreign terrorist fighters; and leveraged terrorism finance provisions of its Law for Crimes of Terrorism and Terrorist Financing (CT Law) to counter the funding of violent extremist groups in Iraq and Syria.
2015 Terrorist Incidents: A number of attacks on both Saudi and Western targets occurred despite Saudi efforts to detect and disrupt terrorist activity. ISIL posed a persistent challenge to Saudi security services, claiming responsibility for or inspiring the most egregious incidents in the Kingdom during 2015. On January 30, an individual, possibly inspired by ISIL, attacked two U.S. defense contractors in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province, killing one. Since May, ISIL conducted two suicide attacks against Shia mosques in the Eastern Province, a suicide attack on Saudi security personnel in a mosque in Abha, and a suicide attack against a Shia mosque in Najran. In mid-October, a gunman affiliated with ISIL killed five Shia worshippers at a prayer hall. In addition to targeting Westerners and Saudi Shia, terrorist groups have plotted and conducted successful attacks against Saudi security forces by focusing attacks on border outposts, police stations, and military facilities. In September, two Saudi youth coerced their cousin, a cadet in the Special Security Forces (SSF) Academy, to travel to the desert and recorded a video of his execution in an attempt to gain membership in ISIL. Additionally, in fall 2015, Saudi security forces in Riyadh discovered and interdicted an IED cell and arms cache, resulting in a brief gunfight with the would-be attackers. In all cases, the Saudi government worked closely with U.S. counterparts to clarify the circumstances regarding these attacks and responded quickly to ensure proper security measures were in place to better secure U.S. installations and interests.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: Saudi Arabia enacted a new counterterrorism law containing 41 articles in 2014 that strengthened its existing counterterrorism provisions. In 2015, Saudi Arabia continued to disrupt terrorist activities in the Kingdom by tracking, arresting, and prosecuting terrorist suspects. The Saudi Ministry of Interior (MOI) General Investigations Directorate, also known as the Mabahith, is responsible for conducting counterterrorism investigations in the Kingdom and, upon its discretion, will cooperate with other elements of the Saudi government to further investigations into specific cases. Once the investigation is complete, the case is transferred to the Special Investigations and Public Prosecutions Office for the duration of the trial. The Saudi government continued its programs to improve physical border security through the employment of biometric systems, aerial reconnaissance, thermal imaging, and remote unattended sensors along its borders. Throughout 2015, Saudi Arabia faced a deteriorating security situation with its neighbors, Iraq and Yemen.
Neighborhood police units engaged and worked directly with community members in Saudi Arabia, encouraging citizens to provide tips and information about suspected terrorist activity. The government offered rewards for information on terrorists, and Saudi security services made several announcements throughout the year pertaining to the arrest of large numbers of ISIL and AQAP terrorists and supporters.
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Saudi Arabia is a member of the Middle East and North Africa Financial Action Task Force, a Financial Action Task Force (FATF)-style regional body. Its financial intelligence unit (FIU), the Saudi Arabia FIU (SAFIU), is a member of the Egmont Group. The Saudi government affirmed its commitment to combatting terrorism financing in the Kingdom and sought to further establish itself as a leader in disrupting terrorism finance within the Gulf region. The MOI continued to provide specialized training programs for financial institutions, prosecutors, judges, customs and border officials, and other sectors of the government as part of its effort to enhance programs designed to counter terrorism financing. The Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency has standing requirements for all financial institutions within the Kingdom’s jurisdiction to implement all of the recent anti-money laundering and combatting the financing of terrorism recommendations issued by the FATF. Saudi Arabia earned observer status in the FATF in June 2015 and is in a process toward full membership in the organization.
For the first time, Saudi Arabia produced certified bank records in response to a mutual legal assistance request, based on reciprocity and increased cooperation on identification of foreign terrorist fighters traveling to Syria and Iraq.
Saudi Arabia, along with Italy and the United States, co-lead the Counter-ISIL Finance Group, which coordinates the Counter-ISIL Coalition’s efforts to disrupt and dismantle ISIL’s financial infrastructure. In 2015, Saudi Arabia increased its public designations of individuals and entities for violating the Kingdom’s laws criminalizing terrorism financing and support. In April, Saudi Arabia and the United States took joint action to designate al-Furqan Foundation Welfare Trust, the successor entity to the Afghan Support Committee and Revival of Islamic Heritage Society branches in Pakistan and Afghanistan. In May and November, Saudi Arabia leveraged counterterrorism financing authorities to sanction 14 individuals and two entities for acting on behalf of or providing financial support to Hizballah.
Despite serious and effective efforts to counter the funding of terrorism originating within the Kingdom, some individuals and entities in Saudi Arabia continued to serve as sources of financial support for Sunni-based extremist groups, particularly regional al-Qa’ida affiliates such as the Nusrah Front. While the Kingdom has tightened banking and charity regulations, and stiffened penalties for financing terrorism, funds are allegedly collected in secret and illicitly transferred out of the country in cash, often via pilgrims performing Hajj and Umrah. In recent years the government has responded, and in 2015 it increased policing to counter this smuggling. Recent regional turmoil and a sophisticated use of social media have facilitated charities outside of Saudi Arabia with ties to violent extremists to solicit donations from Saudi donors.
Countering Violent Extremism: As part of the Kingdom’s strategy to counter violent extremism, the government focused on increasing public awareness campaigns and conducting outreach, counter-radicalization, and rehabilitation programs. Some of these efforts involved seminars that refuted violent Islamist extremist interpretation and ideology. Public awareness campaigns were aimed at reinforcing the values of the state’s Wahhabi interpretation of the Islamic faith and educating Saudi citizens about the dangers of violent extremism. Methods used included advertisements and programs on television, in schools and mosques, and at sporting events. The Saudi government expanded these programs to address the rising threat to youth from recruitment efforts from groups like ISIL and to dissuade its citizens from engaging as foreign terrorist fighters in Syria and Iraq.
The MOI continued to operate its de-radicalization program (the Sakina Campaign for Dialogue), as well as its extensive rehabilitation program at the Mohammed bin Naif Counseling and Care Center.
The Department of State has long engaged the Saudi government about its educational system. During 2015, the Saudi government continued its ongoing program to modernize the educational curriculum, including textbooks, although this has not been completely implemented and some textbooks containing derogatory and intolerant references to Shia and non-Muslims remained in circulation.
The Ministry of Islamic Affairs continued to train and regulate imams, prohibiting them from incitement of violence, and continued to monitor mosques and religious education. Some privately-funded satellite television stations in the Kingdom continued to espouse sectarian hatred and intolerance.
International and Regional Cooperation: Saudi Arabia cooperated regionally and internationally on counterterrorism issues, including through its participation in the Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF). Saudi Arabia is also a member of the GCC. Saudi officials issued statements encouraging enhanced cooperation among GCC and Arab League states on counterterrorism issues, and the government hosted international counterterrorism conferences on subjects including, but not limited to, countering violent extremist ideology and countering terrorism financing.
Throughout the year, Saudi security professionals participated in joint programs around the world, including in Europe and the United States. The Saudi government participated in a U.S.-GCC Camp David summit, where it reaffirmed its commitment to countering terrorism. In addition to Saudi Arabia’s bilateral cooperation with the United States, Saudi officials also worked with other international counterparts to conduct counterterrorism operations and exchange information. The growing threat from ISIL to both Saudi Arabia and other GCC member states encouraged greater dialogue about information sharing, coordination of counterterrorism efforts, and the importance of strategic cooperation against terrorist groups seeking influence in the region. In August, the Saudi government hosted the U.S.-GCC Counterterrorism and Border Security Working Group. Following deadly mosque attacks in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, the Saudis committed to greater collaboration with GCC neighbors in an effort to better counter the shared regional terrorist threat.
On December 14, Deputy Crown Prince and Minister of Defense Prince Mohammed bin Salman announced the formation of a 34-nation Islamic military coalition to fight terrorism and counter violent extremism. The joint statement from coalition members referred to the UN and Organization of the Islamic Conference charter to justify the coalition’s formation. The coalition will be led by Saudi Arabia and headquartered in Riyadh. The coalition members’ roles and responsibilities were not announced in 2015.
Overview: The Tunisian government has expanded its counterterrorism efforts since 2013, and further increased these efforts in 2015 after three high-profile attacks in March, June, and November perpetrated by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)-inspired attackers. Additionally, al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM)-aligned Okba Ibn Nafaa Brigade continued small scale attacks against security personnel and, for the first time, against civilian targets. Tunisia reached out to the international community, particularly to the United States as its prime security partner, to seek support in transforming its security apparatus into fully professional and competent counterterrorism forces. U.S. security support to Tunisia grew in 2015, but Tunisia needs more time and international support to complete the overhaul of its military and civilian security forces. The new government was seated in February and brought together four of the leading parliamentary blocs, including broadly secularist Nida Tounes and Islamist Nahda. The government has made counterterrorism a top priority.
The new government officially joined the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL at the UN General Assembly in September and announced that it would serve as a pilot country for the International Counterterrorism and Countering Violent Extremism Capacity-Building Mechanism (ICCM). Tunisia became a U.S. major non-NATO ally in 2015. Parliament passed a new counterterrorism law in July, which modernized the legislative framework for the prosecution and investigation of terrorism and implemented UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 2178. Domestically, a National Counterterrorism Strategy was reportedly at its final stages of development in December. The strategy takes a comprehensive approach to the fight against terrorism along four pillars: prevention, protection, follow-up, and response. The military and civilian security forces continued to make counterterrorism their first priority, leading to the dismantlement of several terrorist cells and the disruption of a number of plots.
Terrorism remained a serious challenge for Tunisia that included the potential for terrorist attacks and the influx of arms and violent extremists from neighboring countries. The government grappled to adapt to terrorist threats that morphed in nature during the year, and focused on terrorist groups, such as Ansar al-Shari’a in Tunisia (AAS-T) and AQIM. In 2015, AQIM continued its activities in the western mountainous regions of the country, where it attacked security forces and targeted civilians for the first time.
Continuing instability in Libya led to the expansion of violent extremist groups, including ISIL, requiring the Tunisian government to increase its focus on its border with Libya and to adapt to terrorist tactics that targeted foreign civilians and urban areas. The disproportionate numbers of Tunisians traveling to fight in Syria and Iraq – and the potential for the return of these fighters – was another cause for concern. The Tunisian Ministry of Interior asserted that 3,200 Tunisians have gone abroad to participate in violent extremist activities. Senior Tunisian government officials have said approximately 700 women have gone abroad to join extremists causes as well.
Tunisia has been active in countering terrorist threats. The government has put considerable efforts into stemming the flow of fighters to Syria and Iraq. Government numbers indicated that 700 returnees from Syria and Iraq are in prison or under house arrest.
2015 Terrorist Incidents: Terrorist organizations, including ISIL, AQIM, and AAS-T, were active in Tunisia throughout the year. The list of incidents below highlights some of the most significant terrorist attacks.
- On February 17, four National Guard service members on patrol died in a terrorist attack in Boulaaba, close to Mount Chaambi. The terrorists fled with service members’ weapons. AQIM-affiliated Okba Ibn Nafaa Brigade claimed responsibility for the attack.
- On March 18, two terrorists attacked the Bardo museum, killing 21 foreign tourists and a Tunisian security official, and injuring more than 40 civilians. The perpetrators and a member of Tunisia’s Antiterrorism Brigade (BAT) died in the response operations. ISIL-inspired attackers claimed responsibility for the attack. The perpetrators had been trained in Libya.
- On June 26, a lone terrorist opened fire on tourists at two resort hotels in Sousse. Thirty-nine tourists, mostly British, died in the attack. Tunisian security forces killed the terrorist, who was trained in Libya. ISIL-inspired individuals claimed responsibility for the attack.
- On November 24, a terrorist killed 12 Presidential Guard members in a suicide attack on their bus in downtown Tunis. ISIL claimed responsibility.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: Parliament passed a new counterterrorism law in July, replacing the 2003 law as the primary legal framework for dealing with terrorism offenses. The law modernizes Tunisia’s security legislation and strikes a better balance between the protection of human rights and fighting terrorism, and implements obligations under UNSCRs 2178 and the UN 1267/1989/2253 ISIL (Da’esh) and al-Qa’ida sanctions regime. It also enjoys greater legitimacy compared to the 2003 law, which prosecutors were reluctant to invoke since the 2011 revolution, as many in Tunisian society believed the legislation was an instrument of political repression by the previous regime. Parliament approved the bill 174-0, with 10 abstentions.
The Ministry of Interior (MOI) and the Ministry of Defense (MOD) share responsibility for detecting, deterring, and preventing acts of terrorism in Tunisia. The military’s role in counterterrorism has gradually increased. The MOD leads Tunisia’s security efforts in “military exclusion zones” in mountainous areas close to the Algerian border, a buffer zone along portions of the border with Libya, and in the southern tip of the country.
The MOI is the lead counterterrorism agency in the rest of the country. In particular, BAT and the National Guard Special Unit – elite units under the Ministry’s National Police and National Guard, respectively – take the lead for counterterrorism operations. The National Unit for the Investigation of Terrorist Crimes leads investigations and liaises with the judicial system on prosecutions. With assistance from the Department of State and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Counterterrorism Fusion Center became operational this year, acting as a clearinghouse for information for Tunisia’s security services.
Security forces were generally more effective in 2015 compared to the previous year, particularly in their response to de-escalating the threat of urban protests. The government’s counterterrorism efforts have intensified, with successes including weapons seizures, arrests, and operations against armed groups throughout the country. At the tactical level, MOI and MOD forces worked together in some locations, coordinating their efforts in Joint Task Forces established in the military exclusion zones. Tunisian security forces expanded their counterterrorism operations throughout the country. The Bardo and Sousse attacks, and especially the suicide attack on a Presidential Guard bus, were followed by hundreds of raids and arrests.
Tunisia has an Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) and maintains fingerprint records for identification cards, criminal records, and latent prints. Tunisia currently has only one AFIS system, and it is not known if the records can be shared with other government agencies via automated responses. Tunisia also maintains a DNA database and has expressed an interest in becoming a Combined DNA Index System member. Tunisia does not currently share its biometric data with any countries. The Tunisian government has undertaken a sweeping overhaul of its civilian border security arrangements and plans to implement the reforms in phases starting in early 2016.
Continuing instability in Libya increasingly alarmed Tunisian authorities as a growing number of terrorist incidents were linked to violent extremists in Libya. Border security remained a priority in 2015, and Tunisian authorities collaborated with their Algerian counterparts to stem the flow of weapons and insurgents across their common borders and across their borders with Libya. Tunisia repeatedly publicly expressed satisfaction with its cooperation with Algeria. The Ministry of Defense took the lead in constructing a series of berms and trenches along more than 220 kilometers of the border with Libya in order to stem the flow of arms, terrorists, and contraband between the two countries. It has asked for and received support from Germany and the United States to install electronic surveillance equipment to augment the new barrier.
The year saw a significant number of arrests and raids by security forces. Then-Deputy Minister of Interior Rafik Chelly told the media October 27 that during the first 10 months of the year, 1,800 suspects had been brought to court on terrorism charges, 450 of whom were accused of recruiting Tunisian youth to join extremists in Syria and Iraq. The courts handed down a 36-year prison verdict against a Tunisian who had fought in Syria, the first verdict of its kind in Tunisia.
Other significant law enforcement actions and arrests related to counterterrorism included:
- On February 4, the police killed Kamel Gadhgadhi, alleged murderer of politician Chokri Belaid, and six other suspected terrorists in a house raid in a suburb of Tunis. Clashes between suspected terrorists and security forces lasted nearly 20 hours and resulted in the death of a National Guard member. The police and army seized weapons, ammunition, explosives, mobile phones, and military uniforms.
- On February 7, security forces arrested 32 violent extremist suspects presumably directly linked to the Okba Ibn Nafaa Brigade, some of whom were returning from conflict zones abroad. They were believed to be plotting terrorist attacks against security installations around the country, including on the Ministry of Interior headquarters in the capital.
- On March 28, eight members of Okba Ibn Nafaa Brigade, including one of its key leaders, Lokman Abou Sakhr, died in an ambush as National Guard special operations forces attempted to apprehend them. Abou Sakhr was one of the most wanted terrorists in Tunisia.
- In the run up to the July 25 Republic Day celebrations, Ministry of Interior forces thwarted a planned terrorist attack in Bizerte.
- On November 17, authorities arrested a cell of 17 violent Islamist extremists and prevented a planned assault on hotels and security forces in the resort town of Sousse. The Ministry of Interior said some of the terrorists had been trained in Libya and Syria and were awaiting orders to carry out the assault. The authorities seized Kalashnikov rifles, explosives, and a bomb belt.
The Tunis Court of Appeals delivered on February 17 the final verdict in the case of the September 2012 attack on the U.S. Embassy in Tunis. It increased the sentences for 14 of the 20 convicted of complicity in the attack by lower courts and transformed all 20 sentences from suspended to firm sentences. Only six of the convicts, however, were in government custody.
Tunisia continued to participate in the Department of State’s Antiterrorism Assistance (ATA) program. Ministry of Interior officials received ATA training in the areas of tactical crisis response, counterterrorism investigations, and command and control. Tactical units were granted specific tactical and enabling equipment. Department of State International Narcotics and Law Enforcement programs supported leadership development, police reform, prison reform, hostage rescue, crowd control management, and other training and support for the Ministries of Interior and Justice. They were also provided vehicles, body armor, computers, and other equipment to enhance internal and border security. Leadership development included travel for police and corrections professionals to the United States to meet U.S. law enforcement counterparts. The Tunisian Armed Forces consider counterterrorism and border security their principal mission and have successfully employed U.S.-funded patrol craft, vehicles, weapons, and training in border security and counterterrorism operations.
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Tunisia is a member of the Middle East and North Africa Financial Action Task Force, a Financial Action Task Force-style regional body. Its financial intelligence unit, the Tunisian Financial Analysis Committee (CTAF), is a member of the Egmont Group. Tunisia’s strict currency controls might have pushed some transnational money movements, such as remittances, to the informal sector, making them difficult to trace. Trade-based money laundering was also a concern. Throughout the region, invoice manipulation and customs fraud were often involved in the process of hawala financial reconciliations. The CTAF is headed by the Central Bank Governor and includes representatives from a range of other agencies. It has worked effectively over the last year to gather important regulatory information to improve its efforts to combat money laundering and terrorism financing. The penal code provides for the seizure of assets and property tied to narcotics trafficking and terrorist activities. Tunisia freezes and confiscates assets, but the timeframe for taking action varies depending on the case. For further information on money laundering and financial crimes, see the 2016 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), Volume II, Money Laundering and Financial Crimes: http://www.state.gov/j/inl/rls/nrcrpt/index.htm.
Countering Violent Extremism: Tunisia made a concerted effort to improve socioeconomic conditions in the country through economic development and education programs to help prevent radicalization. The government also attempted to prevent the radicalization of Tunisians by minimizing their exposure to inflammatory rhetoric in mosques by replacing imams deemed extremist, although local populations in several cases resisted the changes. The National Counterterrorism Strategy reportedly expanded the fight against terrorism to all ministries, including those that focus on culture, education, media, and religious affairs, and assigned each ministry concrete actions to accomplish. The new counterterrorism law established the Counterterrorism Commission under the prime ministry, which includes representatives of all ministries and members of the judiciary. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is the lead ministry for developing a counter extremist messaging capacity. The Ministry of Communications is also involved in developing the plan.
International and Regional Cooperation: Tunisia participates in multinational and regional efforts to counter terrorism, such as those at the UN, the Arab League, the Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF), and the AU. It is a founding member of the GCTF-inspired International Institute for Justice and the Rule of Law (IIJ) and participated in numerous IIJ trainings and workshops, which were focused on improving criminal justice actors’ capacity to prevent and address terrorism-related crimes.
Tunisia is an active member of the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership, a U.S. multi-year interagency regional program aimed at building the capacity of governments in the Maghreb and Sahel to confront the threats posed by violent extremists. Tunisia is also part of the Security Governance Initiative announced by President Obama in 2014. Tunisian authorities intensified their coordination on border security with Algerian counterparts over this past year, although cooperation with Libya was nearly impossible due to the absence of an effective Libyan central government. Algeria’s cooperation with Tunisia on counterterrorism is particularly robust: an agreement between the two countries established military-to-military communications and a coordination committee to improve information sharing related to counterterrorism activities.
UNITED ARAB EMIRATES
Overview: The United Arab Emirates (UAE) government continued to reinforce its firm counterterrorism stance through implementation of strict counterterrorism laws and a strong counterterrorism partnership with the United States. The UAE government strengthened its commitment to support the efforts of the Global Coalition to Counter the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), most notably through its growing counter-messaging role. The UAE government co-chaired the Coalition Communications Working Group along with the United States and the UK, and partnered with the U.S. government to establish the Sawab Center, an online counter-ISIL messaging hub. The UAE was also an active participant in the Conference of the Chiefs of Staff of Members of the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL and Terrorism held in Qatar in June, and in the U.S.-Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Counterterrorism and Border Security Working Group which met in Riyadh in August as a follow-up to the U.S.-GCC Summit at Camp David held in May.
The UAE government security apparatus remained highly capable of monitoring and preventing terrorist activity within the UAE’s borders. Throughout 2015, the UAE worked to improve border security and measures to counter the financing of terrorism. The pre-clearance facility for travelers boarding direct flights to the United States at the Abu Dhabi International Airport continued to operate and expand its services. A number of UAE-based think tanks and research institutions, including the Emirates Policy Center, the Emirates Center for Strategic Studies and Research, Hedayah, and the TRENDS Institute, held conferences, seminars, and roundtables on confronting terrorism and violent extremism.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: The UAE continued to implement the revised counterterrorism law (Federal law No.7) it passed in November 2014, as well as the existing cybercrime law, to prosecute terrorism-related crimes involving use of the internet to promote radical ideologies and finance terrorist activities. In July, the UAE adopted an anti-discrimination law that included provisions that complement and supplement the existing counterterrorism law. In addition to criminalizing all forms of discrimination based on religion, caste, creed, doctrine, race, color, or ethnic origin, the anti-discrimination law bans hate speech propagated through media outlets, and bans acts that promote religious hate and intolerance. The law also criminalizes the practice of referring to other religious groups or individuals as infidels or unbelievers (“kafir” in Arabic), though aspects of the law are overly broad and can be interpreted to criminalize atheism, peaceful critiques of Islam, and other forms of protected religious speech and expression. Penalties for violating the law include jail terms ranging from six months to more than 10 years, as well as fines from US $13,000 to US $540,000.
The State Security Directorate in Abu Dhabi and Dubai State Security were the principal security services responsible for counterterrorism functions. These services demonstrated advanced capability in investigations, crisis response, and border security, and were trained and equipped to detect, deter, and respond to terrorist incidents. The Federal Supreme Court, through its State Security Court, had sole jurisdiction for adjudicating national security and terrorism-related cases.
In June, the State Security Court convicted Ala’a Badr Abdullah al Hashimi of murdering an American kindergarten teacher in the Al Reem shopping center in Abu Dhabi in December 2014. Al Hashimi subsequently attempted to detonate a bomb outside the home of an American doctor. The Court sentenced al Hashimi to death, the first instance of capital punishment in accordance with the 2014 counterterrorism law. Al Hashimi was executed by firing squad on July 13.
According to official press reports, the State Security Court heard more than two dozen other alleged terrorism-related cases in 2015. In the Al Manara case, 41 individuals – 38 of whom are Emiratis – were charged with establishing a terrorist organization and embracing extremist ideology with the intent of carrying out terrorist activities in the UAE. As of late December, the case was still being heard by the court. A number of other Emiratis and non-citizen residents were charged with allegedly joining ISIL and al-Qa’ida-affiliated groups, including al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and the Nusrah Front, and using the internet to promote extremist ideology; in some of these cases individuals received prison sentences of up to 10 years. Several of these cases have been adjourned and are awaiting final verdicts.
The UAE also deported a number of noncitizens who allegedly planned to join ISIL, including four Sudanese medical students traveling to Syria via the UAE who were intercepted at Dubai International Airport. The counterterrorism law provided broad authority for prosecution of crimes that potentially jeopardized UAE security, including defamation or insulting the UAE’s rulers or system of governance; this legislation has been used to restrict nonviolent speech and criticism of the government. In November, for example, the State Security Court convicted Kuwaiti citizen and former Member of Parliament, Mubarak al Duwailah, of insulting Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nayhan by criticizing the Crown Prince’s stance on the Muslim Brotherhood, which the UAE designated as a terrorist organization. Al Duwailah was tried and sentenced to five years’ imprisonment in absentia. Also in November, Emirati citizen Abdulla Saeed Al Dhanhani received a five-year prison term and a fine of US $270,000 after being convicted of insulting the UAE’s leaders on social media, and for voicing support on Twitter and Instagram for the Muslim Brotherhood.
The State Security Court also heard cases involving individuals with alleged ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. Several of these involved allegations that individuals were “spreading rumors” that defamed the UAE and posed a threat to the security of the nation. In one such case, the court sentenced an Emirati to seven years in jail for joining al-Islah, a UAE-based organization affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood. It was not clear if his charges were based on incitement to violence or nonviolent speech and political affiliation.
The UAE government continued to support DHS preclearance operations and expansion with increased flights and passengers from Abu Dhabi International Airport to the United States. Abu Dhabi Police’s Criminal Investigations Divisions enhanced its information sharing with DHS in an effort to combat transnational criminal organizations and terrorist groups. DHS Homeland Security Investigations provided ongoing mentoring and capacity-building training related to fraudulent documents and impostor detection to Abu Dhabi Police, Immigration, and Customs personnel, and airline personnel. The UAE employed a retina-screening system that fed traveler information into a central mainframe computer at the Ministry of Interior. The mainframe consolidated data pertaining to entry/exit, immigration, deportation, criminal activity, and corrections, and was accessible at all air, land, and sea ports. The UAE also collected Advanced Passenger Information at ports of entry (POEs). UAE POEs utilized an internal name-based watchlist system which was populated by local immigration, deportation, corrections, and security agencies to identify individuals who were prohibited from entering the country or were sought by UAE authorities. INTERPOL and GCC watchlists were presumably incorporated into the UAE’s internal watchlist.
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: The UAE is a member of the Middle East and North Africa Financial Action Task Force (MENAFATF), a Financial Action Task Force-style regional body, and chaired the Task Force’s Training and Typologies Working Group. The UAE’s financial intelligence unit, the Anti-Money Laundering and Suspicious Cases Unit (AML/SCU), is a member of the Egmont Group. The UAE also participated in the Counter-ISIL Finance Group chaired by Italy, Saudi Arabia, and the United States.
The UAE is a regional and global financial and transportation hub, and terrorist organizations exploited the UAE to send and receive financial support. Operational capability constraints and political considerations sometimes prevented the UAE government from immediately freezing and confiscating terrorist assets absent multilateral assistance, but there were other instances of effective Emirati action to disrupt terrorist financing. Except for those specifically established for financial activities, which were well-regulated, the UAE’s numerous free trade zones varied in their compliance with and supervision of anti-money laundering/counterterrorism financing (AML/CFT) international best practices. Exploitation by illicit actors of money transmitters including licensed exchange houses, hawalas, and trading firms acting as money transmitters, remained significant concerns. The UAE required licensing and registration of exchange houses and hawalas with the Central Bank.
Both the Governor of the Central Bank and the Public Prosecutor were able to freeze funds based on suspicion of terrorism financing. The Central Bank conducted AML training both locally and regionally, including in a MENAFATF assessors’ training course in October aimed at training expert evaluators of AML/CFT regimes. Pursuant to the federal counterterrorism law, the UAE designated the AML/SCU as the sole national center concerned with receiving, analyzing, and forwarding suspicious transaction reports (STRs). STRs based on activity in financial free zones were previously reported to the AML/SCU through financial free zone regulators. The UAE also worked on enhancing the independence of the AML/SCU, publishing annual reports, and providing comprehensive statistics on the activities carried out by the unit.
Countering Violent Extremism: The UAE government continued to support Hedayah, the International Center of Excellence for Countering Violent Extremism (CVE), which it hosts in Abu Dhabi. In June, Hedayah conducted a workshop bringing together CVE practitioners and former foreign terrorist fighters to discuss the foreign terrorist fighter threat and counter-messaging approaches to address it. Hedayah participated in the Madrid+10: Stop Violent Extremism conference in Spain in October, where it also organized a two-day workshop on the Role of Women in Countering Radicalization and Violent Extremism. Hedayah hosted a follow-up International CVE Research Conference in December in coordination with Edith Cowan University and New York University Abu Dhabi Institute. In addition to supporting Hedayah, the UAE government in July partnered with the U.S. government to launch the Sawab Center in Abu Dhabi, a new social media platform focused on countering ISIL’s radical narratives and online propaganda. The UAE was also host to the Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies.
To prevent violent extremist preaching in UAE mosques, the General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowments provided guidelines for all Friday sermons and monitored mosques’ compliance, excluding those in Dubai, which has its own system under the supervision of Islamic Affairs and Charitable Activities Department. Abroad, the General Authority continued providing training to cohorts of Afghan imams on preaching messages of non-violence and tolerance. During key periods of Muslim religious observance, especially the fasting month of Ramadan, the UAE government aired commercials on television warning Muslim citizens and residents to refrain from donating money at mosques, as the funds could unknowingly support terrorist causes. The UAE also worked to keep its education system free of violent extremist influences, emphasizing social tolerance. In November, the UAE government announced its plan to open in Al Ain a branch of Egypt’s Al-Azhar University, a premier institution of Islamic learning, as a way to promote the teaching of moderate Islam in the Gulf region.
The Government of the UAE also received training on social media analysis to enhance its ability to combat ISIL’s use of the internet to spread propaganda and increase recruitment.
International and Regional Cooperation: The UAE was a vocal and active participant in counterterrorism efforts at both the regional and international levels, including the Global Counterterrorism Forum, where it served as co-chair of the Countering Violent Extremism working group. It sent high-level delegations to a number of counterterrorism-related conferences, including the International Conference on Counter Extremism and Violence, the Conference of the Chiefs of Staff of Members of the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL and Terrorism, the 17th meeting of the Arab League’s Counter-Terrorism Team of Experts, and a special session of the Arab Judicial Cooperation Network on Counter-Terrorism and Organized Crime. It co-chaired with Germany the Working Group on Stabilization of the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL. It also co-chaired with the United States and UK the Working Group on Strategic Communications of the Global Coalition against ISIL. The UAE participated in the August U.S.-GCC Counterterrorism and Border Security Working group meeting in Riyadh.
In December the UAE government helped launch the International Supreme Council for Ifta, a group that seeks to review, correct, and amalgamate Islamic edicts, particularly those espoused by ISIL and other terrorist groups. The council includes 35 Islamic scholars/muftis from 35 Muslim countries. The UAE government routinely invited participation from GCC countries at counterterrorism-related training sessions conducted by U.S. law enforcement agencies in the UAE.
Overview: Throughout 2015, al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) exploited the political and security vacuum left by conflict between the Yemeni government and the Houthi-led opposition. On January 22, 2015, forces affiliated with the Houthi-led Ansar Allah seized the Presidential Palace and other government buildings in Sana’a, leading Vice President and Prime Minister (VP/PM) Khaled Bahah and his cabinet to resign, while the Houthis placed President Hadi under house arrest. On February 6, Ansar Allah illegally disbanded parliament and established the appointive Supreme Revolutionary Committee as the highest governing authority. On February 21, President Hadi escaped house arrest and fled Sana’a for Aden. On March 19, Houthi-led opposition forces attempted to seize the airport in Aden. On March 24, President Hadi requested Arab League and Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) military intervention, invoking Article 51 of the UN Charter, and a Saudi-led coalition launched air operations against the Houthi rebellion; the president fled the country the following day, as Houthi-led forces took control of the Aden airport. The Government of Yemen subsequently remained outside Yemen until September 16, when VP/PM Bahah and most of his ministers reestablished themselves in Aden. However, an October 6 terrorist attack reportedly by ISIL’s branch in Yemen on the Government of Yemen’s operational headquarters, the Al-Qasr Hotel, once again drove the Government of Yemen outside the country temporarily. While the Yemeni government has since returned – the cabinet is now split between Riyadh and Aden – a large security vacuum persists, which both ISIL and AQAP have taken advantage of to strengthen their foothold and forces inside the country.
AQAP and ISIL-Yemen have also manipulated the conflict as part of a broader Sunni-Shia sectarian conflict. By emphasizing this sectarian divide based on Ansar-Allah’s Shia religion and support from Iran, these groups have increased their support base and enabled ISIL-Yemen to gain a foothold in the country. ISIL-Yemen has targeted Zaydi Shia mosques in its attacks. While the exact composition of ISIL-Yemen is still unknown, its numbers are considerably smaller than AQAP’s despite it having likely drawn members from some of the same disillusioned Yemeni AQAP members who previously supported ISIL in Iraq and Syria. Structurally, there are seven known wilayat (province) pro-ISIL groups operating in 10 of Yemen’s provinces, including Sa’ada, Sana’a, al-Jawf, al-Bayda, Taiz, Ibb, Lahij, Aden, Shahwah, and Hadramawt. While ISIL in Yemen has demonstrated a violent operational pace, it has yet to occupy significant territory or challenge AQAP’s status of Yemen’s predominate Sunni Islamist terrorist group.
AQAP benefitted during 2015 from the conflict in Yemen by significantly expanding its presence in the southern and eastern governorates. Despite losing a number of senior leaders during 2015, the group was able to increase its recruiting and expand its safe haven in Yemen. It also insinuated itself among multiple factions on the ground, which has made it more difficult to counter. This tactic has allowed AQAP to continue to expand the territory it controlled during 2015 to Abyan, Taiz, and its largest safe haven in the port city of al-Mukalla. It also maintained a presence in Aden. In addition, there were no direct physical clashes reported between the two groups during 2015. Most disputes were confined to verbal or online attacks. However, this could change as the two groups continue to compete with one another.
2015 Terrorist Incidents: AQAP and ISIL terrorists carried out hundreds of attacks throughout Yemen. Methods included suicide bombers, vehicle-borne IEDs (VBIEDs), ambushes, kidnappings, and targeted assassinations. The following list details only a small fraction of the incidents that occurred:
- On March 20, ISIL-Yemen detonated separate suicide vests at two Zaydi mosques in Sana’a, during Friday prayers. At one of the mosques, a suicide bomber entered the crowd of worshipers before detonating and the second bomber detonated as worshipers were fleeing. The blast killed 77 people and injured more than 120 others. On the same day, another suicide bomber attempted to detonate a suicide vest at a Zaydi mosque in Sa’ada City, Sa’ada.
- On April 2, AQAP attacked government and security facilities in al-Mukalla, Hadramawt, on Yemen’s southern coast. Militants also attacked a prison and freed an estimated 270 inmates, including AQAP’s former head of Abyan province, Khaled Batarfi.
- On April 16, AQAP-linked terrorists led by AQAP’s former head of Abyan, Khaled Batarfi, and calling themselves the “Sons of Hadramawt,” seized control of al Dhabah oil terminal, directly east of the port city al Mukalla in Hadramawt. The terrorists also seized Rayyan Airport, east of al-Mukalla.
- On October 6, ISIL-Yemen claimed to have detonated four suicide VBIEDs near Yemeni government and Saudi-led coalition sites in Aden.
- On October 14, AQAP terrorists seized a government complex in Zinjibar, a port city near Aden in southern Yemen that AQAP controlled throughout 2011 and into 2012. Suspected AQAP terrorists also attacked an intelligence building in al-Hudaydah, Yemen’s Red Seaport.
- On December 6, ISIL-Yemen claimed responsibility for the attack that killed the Governor of Aden, Major General Jaafar Mohammed Saad, and threatened additional attacks on Yemeni government officials.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: Yemen does not have comprehensive counterterrorism legislation and no progress was made in this regard as the Yemeni government remained outside Yemen for most of 2015. During this timeframe, the presence of AQAP and ISIL-Yemen increased. As the government reestablishes its foothold in Yemen, it will need to focus on counterterrorism as one of its highest priorities. Government of Yemen officials have expressed an interest in integrating militia, resistance, and other units under one security umbrella as these efforts unfold.
Draft counterterrorism legislation has been pending in the parliament since 2008. This legislation remained at a standstill, as the parliament has not met while the country has been subject to a civil conflict. Prior to the political instability in the capital, the draft was under review by the three parliamentary subcommittees responsible for counterterrorism law issues (Legal and Constitutional Affairs; Security and Defense; and Codification of Sharia Law). This law would facilitate the detention of suspects and include mandatory sentencing for a number of terrorism-related crimes.
Prior to March 2015, the National Security Agency and President’s Office drafted a National Counterterrorism Strategy. This draft was reviewed by a Ministerial Committee. However, the committee was unable to finalize its task due to the developments in the country. Therefore, Yemen’s National Counterterrorism Strategy had not yet been officially adopted or implemented at the end of 2015. Another committee, at a more technical level worked to establish a Yemen Rehabilitation Center for Countering Extremism. However, the work of the committee stopped in early January 2015 before it began seeking donor funding.
Yemen adopted the Terrorist Interdiction Program’s Personal Identification Secure Comparison and Evaluation System (PISCES) in 2002 in an effort to secure borders and identify fraudulent travel documents. Yemen has the capability to conduct biographic and biometric screening at multiple land, sea, and air ports of entry.
In past years, the Yemeni government’s Coast Guard forces played a critical role in interdictions of weapons and other illegal materials destined for Yemen-based terrorist groups, although Yemen’s maritime borders remained extremely porous due to a lack of capacity. At present, Yemen’s military, including the coast guard, has been degraded by the current conflict. AQAP’s control of al-Mukallah and its expansion along the southern coast have made these areas highly vulnerable to maritime smuggling of weapons, materials, and goods used to finance AQAP and other terrorist activities.
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Yemen is a member of the Middle East and North Africa Financial Action Task Force (MENAFATF), a Financial Action Task Force-style regional body. Yemen did not participate in MENAFATF meetings in 2015. There is currently no information from its Financial Information Unit (FIU), which operates out of the CBY. For further information on money laundering and financial crimes, see the 2016 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), Volume II, Money Laundering and Financial Crimes: http://www.state.gov/j/inl/rls/nrcrpt/index.htm.
Countering Violent Extremism: Throughout 2015, the Government of Yemen leadership has stressed the importance of countering terrorism and violent extremism as the country moves forward towards a peace deal. The Government of Yemen will need to focus on the details of such a plan once conditions allow.
International and Regional Cooperation: While in Riyadh, the Government of Yemen continued to cooperate with and be advised by the GCC, the United States, and other donor countries as it focused on working towards a peaceful solution to the conflict. Despite the challenges, the Government of Yemen remained an international partner as it worked to reestablish itself in Yemen.