Chapter 1. Country Reports: Middle East and North Africa
THE MIDDLE EAST AND NORTH AFRICA
While significant terrorist activities and safe havens continued to persist in the Middle East and North Africa throughout 2017, the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS and its partners experienced success against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. By the year’s end, the Coalition and its partners had successfully liberated nearly all of the territory ISIS once controlled in Iraq and Syria, including the group’s so-called capital Raqqa. With the loss of territory in Iraq and Syria, however, ISIS began to convert to more insurgent tactics toward the end of 2017.
Beyond Iraq and Syria, ISIS branches, affiliates, and sympathizers across the Middle East remained active in 2017, including in Libya, Saudi Arabia, the Sinai Peninsula, and Yemen. In Egypt, ISIS continued its terrorist campaign in the Sinai through its affiliate, ISIS-Sinai Province (ISIS-SP, formerly Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis). On November 24, suspected ISIS‑SP terrorists conducted the deadliest terrorist attack in Egypt’s history when they attacked a mosque in Al-Rawdah village in North Sinai, killing 312 people.
ISIS’s presence and capabilities in the Maghreb were significantly reduced in 2017 by U.S. airstrikes in Libya and the counterterrorism efforts of the Algerian, Moroccan, and Tunisian governments. In Libya, the Government of National Accord (GNA) led by Prime Minister Fayez al Sarraj remained a determined partner to the United States and cooperated with U.S. and international counterterrorism efforts during the year.
Along with ISIS, al-Qa’ida (AQ) and its affiliates continued to maintain safe havens amidst the fragile political and security climate across the region, particularly in Yemen and Syria. In January, Syrian AQ affiliate al-Nusrah Front (ANF) merged with other terrorist groups to create Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS). While the emergence of HTS has been described in various ways, ANF dominated and operated through HTS to pursue its objectives. In July, HTS effectively defeated other major opposition groups in Idlib province in northwest Syria; the group held a safe haven there through the rest of 2017.
In Yemen, the ongoing conflict between the Government of Yemen and Houthi forces continued to create a security vacuum for al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and ISIS’s Yemen branch to exploit. AQAP used its tribal connections to continue to recruit, conduct attacks, and operate in areas of southern and central Yemen with relative impunity, although counterterrorism operations eliminated key leaders and pressured the group’s networks. AQAP also released several videos reiterating its intent to attack the West. Although significantly smaller than AQAP, ISIS’s Yemen affiliate conducted large-scale attacks targeting security forces and government targets in Aden.
Beyond Yemen, countries in the Persian Gulf region continued to take important steps to combat terrorism, including through its financing with commitments made during the U.S.-Gulf Cooperation Council summit in Riyadh in May. An unexpected break in ties with Qatar by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt in June had a negative impact on regional counterterrorism cooperation. The United States signed a counterterrorism Memorandum of Understanding with Qatar to increase bilateral cooperation in July 2017.
In the Levant, Jordan and Lebanon both remained committed Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS partners. Jordanian security forces thwarted several plots and apprehended numerous terrorists in 2017; the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) expelled ISIS militants along the Lebanese-Syrian border near Aarsal. Still, several terrorist groups continued to operate in Lebanon throughout the year, most notably Hizballah. The terrorist group remained the most capable terrorist organization in Lebanon, controlling areas across the country.
Hizballah’s presence in Lebanon and Syria continued to pose a threat to Israel throughout the year. Although Palestinian terrorist groups in Gaza and the West Bank continued to threaten Israel, Israeli and Palestinian Authority security forces continued their coordination in an effort to mitigate violence. After the United States announced its intention to move its embassy to Jerusalem, Gaza-based Palestinian terrorist organizations launched rockets into Israeli territory; Israel responded with strikes against terrorist positions inside Gaza. 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.
Iran’s state sponsorship of terrorism worldwide remained undiminished through the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force, its Ministry of Intelligence and Security, and Tehran’s proxy Hizballah, which remained a significant threat to the stability of Lebanon and the broader region. (See Chapter 2, State Sponsors on Terrorism, for more information about Iranian activities.)
Overview: Algeria continued significant efforts to prevent terrorist activity within its borders. Figures published by the Algerian armed forces show continued pressure on terrorist groups as indicated by the numbers of terrorists killed, captured or surrendered, as well as weapons seized and hideouts destroyed. Some analysts assess that continuing losses have substantially reduced the capacities of terrorist groups to operate within Algeria. Nevertheless, al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), AQIM-allied groups, and ISIS elements, including the Algerian affiliate locally known as Jund al-Khilafah in Algeria (JAK-A or Soldiers of the Caliphate in Algeria), remained in the country. These groups aspired to impose their interpretations of Islamic law in Algeria and to attack Algerian security services, local government targets, and Western interests. Terrorist activity in Libya, Tunisia, and Mali contributed to the overall threat.
Algeria is not a member of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, although it observed some coalition meetings. Algeria actively supported the effort to counter ISIS in other ways, such as counter-messaging, capacity-building programs with neighboring states, and co-chairing the Global Counterterrorism Forum’s (GCTF’s) West Africa Capacity Building working group.
2017 Terrorist Incidents: JAK-A claimed responsibility for attacks on security forces. Within the region, AQIM continued attacks using improvised explosive devices (IEDs), bombings, false roadblocks, and ambushes. The Algerian government maintained a strict “no concessions” policy with regard to individuals or groups holding its citizens hostage. Attacks in 2017 included:
- In February 26, a man wearing a suicide belt attempted to enter a police station in Constantine, in eastern Algeria. Police shot his belt, causing it to explode and killing the attacker. Two police officers were injured. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement posted on the internet.
- On August 31, a man wearing an explosive belt blew himself up, killing two police officers, at the entrance to the Tiaret police station, about 270 kilometers southwest of Algiers. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack via its propaganda arm, the AMAQ News Agency. AQIM also claimed responsibility and denounced the ISIS claim as a lie.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: On September 29, a new law entered into effect making significant changes to Algerian criminal procedure. While increasing the number of jurors in many serious criminal cases, the amendments specify that in cases involving terrorism, trials, and appeals will be heard before judges only. The new law provides for greater prosecutorial control of judicial police, including judicial police within the armed forces.
Military forces and multiple law enforcement, intelligence, and security services addressed counterterrorism, counter-intelligence, investigations, border security, and crisis response. These included under the Ministry of Interior the various branches of the Joint Staff, the National Gendarmerie, Border Guards under the Ministry of National Defense (MND), and approximately 210,000 national police, or General Directorate of National Security. 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.
Border security remained a top priority. Algerian and Tunisian customs officials continued to coordinate along their shared border. Algeria created a ditch and berm along the southern part of its border with Tunisia, deployed 3,000 additional troops to the Libyan border, and placed surveillance equipment and a concrete wall along the Moroccan border. According to media, Algeria sought to increase use of aerial surveillance technologies. The Government of Algeria closely monitored passenger manifests of inbound and outbound flights. Government officials reported that all border posts had access to INTERPOL databases.
In 2017, six disciplines at the Gendarmerie’s forensics laboratory were accredited to International Organization for Standardization standards, a first in the region. Algerian law enforcement agencies participated in training and exchanges offered by the U.S. government and by third countries. Algerian participants attended numerous workshops conducted under the aegis of the GCTF. A U.S.-Algeria Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty entered into force April 20, facilitating cooperation in transnational terrorism cases and other criminal matters.
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-style regional body. Its financial intelligence unit, known as the Financial Intelligence Processing Unit (CTRF), is a member of the Egmont Group. The CTRF regularly publishes administrative orders signed by the Minister of Finance, directing the immediate freezing and seizure of the assets of persons and entities on the United Nations (UN) sanctions list under UN Security Council resolution (UNSCR) 1267 (1999) and its successor resolutions. In implementing UNSCR 2178 (2014), the Algerian Penal Code specifies liability for foreign terrorist fighters and those who support or finance them.
Foreign exchange restrictions and distrust of banks push Algerians to cash transactions and informal currency-exchange markets. Media reports suggest the scale of the informal market grew, partly in response to government import limitations. Multiple fiscal initiatives by the government have failed to motivate illegal traders to formalize their businesses.
For further information on money laundering and financial crimes, see the 2018 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), Volume II, Money Laundering and Financial Crimes.
Countering Violent Extremism (CVE): Algeria emphasized a whole-of-government CVE approach, including rehabilitation and reintegration programs for repentant terrorists. Stressing the importance of an inclusive society, the foreign ministry published a booklet on The Role of Democracy in the Fight Against Violent Extremism and Terrorism. Regulation of mosques to ensure they are “de-politicized” and “de-ideologized” is a key aspect of the Algerian approach. The foreign minister recently lauded the “crucial role” of women in CVE efforts, highlighting the mourchidates, female clerics who work with young girls, mothers, and prisoners. 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 affirmed Algeria’s Sunni Maliki tradition of Islam, which the Algerian government believes provides a moderate religious vision for the country. There have been complaints that the government imposes restrictions on other variants of Islam.
International and Regional Cooperation: Algeria is an active member in the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the Arab League and is a founding member of the GCTF. In 2017, the African Union (AU) named Algeria coordinator of its counterterrorism efforts. Algeria is a founding member of the Institute for International Justice and the Rule of Law and participated in counterterrorism-related projects implemented by the UN Office on Drug and Crime’s Terrorism Prevention Branch. Algeria also participates in Comité d’État-Major Opérationnel Conjoint (CEMOC), a cooperative body between Algeria, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger created to fight AQIM activities in the Sahel; and hosts CEMOC’s Liaison and Fusion Center for information sharing.
Algeria sits on the UN Counter-Terrorism Center’s Advisory Board and hosts the headquarters AU Mechanism for Police Cooperation (AFRIPOL), a pan-African organization to foster police training and cooperation. Algeria hosts the AU’s counterterrorism center of excellence, the African Center for the Study and Research on Terrorism. As co-chair of the GCTF’s West Africa Capacity Building working group, Algeria hosted that group’s plenary meeting in October 2017.
On a bilateral basis, Algeria continued strong diplomatic engagement to promote regional peace and security. Algeria chaired the implementation committee for the peace accord in Mali and continued to press stakeholders to support the UN political process in Libya. Algeria also participated in various Sahel-Saharan fora to discuss development and security policies, the evolution of regional terrorism, and donor coordination. Political disagreement between Algeria and Morocco over the status of Western Sahara remained an impediment to bilateral and regional counterterrorism cooperation in 2017.
Overview: Terrorist activity in Bahrain increased in 2017. Bahraini Shia militants remained a threat to security forces and attacks in 2017 resulted in the death of four police officers. During the year, the Bahraini government made gains in detecting and containing terrorist threats from violent Bahraini Shia militants, often backed by Iran, and ISIS sympathizers. The government offered diplomatic support to the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS’s efforts and supported its military operations through hosting the Fifth Fleet and Naval Central Command. The closure of an independent newspaper and two opposition political societies along with government suppression of peaceful protests have combined to exacerbate political tensions, which could increase the risk of radicalization to violence.
2017 Terrorist Incidents: Suspected Bahraini Shia militants continued to instigate low-level violence against security forces using real and fake improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Bahrain regularly experienced low-level violence between Bahraini Shia youth, using Molotov cocktails and other homemade devices, and predominantly Sunni security forces in mostly-Shia villages. The most prominent attacks in 2017 included:
- On January 29, unidentified assailants killed an off-duty police officer in Bilad Al‑Qadeem.
- On June 19, a Bahraini Shia militant died in Al Hajar when an IED he allegedly attempted to plant detonated.
- On October 1, the Shia militant group Wa’ad Allah (God’s Promise Brigades), a suspected al-Ashtar Brigades affiliate, detonated an IED targeting a Ministry of Interior (MOI) checkpoint in Daih, injuring five police officers.
- On October 27, Shia militants detonated an IED along a major highway targeting an MOI police bus killing one officer and injuring eight others.
- On November 10, an oil pipeline exploded in the village of Buri. MOI officials asserted Bahraini Shia militants trained in Iran conducted the attack.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: There were no changes to counterterrorism legislation or border security procedures in 2017.
In April, Bahrain approved a constitutional amendment granting military courts the right to try civilians accused of threatening state security. On December 25, military courts sentenced six Bahrainis to death and seven to seven years in prison in the first trial since the amendment was ratified.
In January, Bahrain restored the Bahrain National Security Agency’s (BNSA) arrest authority for suspected terrorists. BNSA lost its arrest authority after torture allegations amid unrest in 2011. In April 2017, the Bahrain Defense Force established a Counterterrorism Center combining five special operations entities in a new crisis-response mechanism. In December, those forces conducted a mock terrorist attack exercise at a Manama shopping mall.
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Bahrain is a member of the Middle East and North Africa Financial Action Task Force (MENAFATF), a Financial Action Task Force (FATF)-style regional body, and its financial intelligence unit is a member of the Egmont Group. In December, Bahrain did not issue visas for a Qatari representative to participate in MENAFATF’s plenary meeting, held in Manama, likely due to Bahrain’s ongoing political dispute with Qatar. Bahrain is also a member of the Defeat ISIS Coalition’s Counter ISIS Finance Group and participates in the Egmont Group’s Counter ISIS project. In November, a FATF evaluation team conducted an onsite visit to Bahrain to gather information for its second Mutual Evaluation Report. The team found that Bahrain has progressed in terrorism finance investigations and prosecutions.
Bahrain criminalizes terrorist financing in accordance with international standards and can immediately freeze suspicious financial assets. The government obliges non-profit organizations to file suspicious transaction reports and monitors them to prevent misuse and terrorist financing. The government routinely distributes UN sanctions lists under relevant UN Security Council resolutions to financial institutions.
On October 25, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs imposed sanctions on several individuals and two entities linked to ISIS and al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) for their support for or funding of terrorism, blocking their assets and banning transactions in Bahrain. These actions were announced under the newly established U.S.-Saudi Arabia co-chaired Global Terrorist Financing Targeting Center, which acts as an information sharing and coordinating body for the Gulf Cooperation Council countries’ terrorism financing efforts.
The potential politicization of terrorism finance and money laundering issues risks conflating legitimate prosecutions of militants with politically motivated actions against the mainstream opposition. In May, the government convicted Shia cleric Isa Qassim on money-laundering charges related to his collection of khums, alms giving unique to the Shia sect, without proper authorization. Activists and opposition-aligned clergy claimed that increased scrutiny of khums is part of a wider crackdown on the political opposition, whereas the Bahraini government has argued that some khums collections directly and indirectly support Bahraini militants.
For further information on money laundering and financial crimes, see the 2018 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), Volume II, Money Laundering and Financial Crimes.
Countering Violent Extremism (CVE): The Bahraini government continued its efforts to adopt a National CVE strategy in line with the UN Secretary-General’s Preventing Violent Extremism Plan of Action. Additionally, numerous officials from the government, legislature, and non-governmental organizations have developed programming targeting youth and other vulnerable populations.
Within the Bahraini Sunni community, a limited circle of individuals became radicalized to violence in the past several years and joined local terrorist factions or traveled to Syria and Iraq to fight with ISIS and other terrorist groups. A small number of extremist religious preachers helped radicalize these individuals.
The government attempted outreach through initiatives such as the community police, which recruits Shia Bahrainis to bridge the divide between predominantly Shia villages and the mostly Sunni (and largely non-Bahraini origin) police force. The government has not published statistics on the force’s composition or track record.
There is no overall strategic messaging campaign to counter terrorist narratives, although government leaders often publicly speak about tolerance and reducing sectarian rhetoric. However, the government also dissolved secular opposition political group Waad and closed independent opposition-leaning newspaper Al Wasat, limiting the space for opposition voices in the country.
International and Regional Cooperation: Bahrain’s air, land, and sea forces participated in Saudi-led coalition operations against AQAP and Houthis in Yemen. As of November 2017, there were approximately 170 members of the Bahrain Defense Forces deployed in Yemen. Bahrain is an active member of the Gulf Cooperation Council, Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and the Arab League. The Bahraini government frequently attends conferences related to multilateral counterterrorism cooperation. In December, Bahrain co-sponsored UN Security Council resolution 2396 on returning and relocating foreign terrorist fighters.
Overview: In 2017, Egypt suffered numerous deadly terrorist attacks. Despite efforts by President Abdel Fatah Al Sisi’s government and the Egyptian Security Forces (ESF), especially in North Sinai, terrorist attacks remained persistent. ISIS affiliates, including ISIS-Sinai Province (ISIS-SP) and a distinct group calling itself Islamic State Egypt (IS Egypt), posed the most significant threat, as did groups such as Harakat Sawa’d Misr (HASM) and Liwa al-Thawra. For much of the year, these attacks primarily targeted Egyptian security personnel; however, on November 24, terrorists likely affiliated with ISIS killed more than 312 civilians at a Sufi mosque in North Sinai, resulting in the worst terrorist attack in Egypt’s history.
In April, the Egyptian government passed legislation facilitating the prosecution of terrorist cases. Egypt continued its efforts to combat the financing of terrorism and is a member of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS and its Counter-ISIS Finance working group.
2017 Terrorist Incidents: ISIS affiliates and other terrorist groups carried out numerous attacks throughout Egypt, particularly in the Sinai. Methods included complex assaults involving dozens of terrorists, improvised explosive devices (IEDs), vehicle-borne IEDs, ambushes, kidnappings, and targeted assassinations. The following list details only a fraction of the incidents that occurred, particularly against Egyptian civilian and military security forces.
- Between late January and late February, terrorists threatened and targeted Copts in North Sinai, killing at least seven people and displacing more than a hundred Coptic families.
- On April 9, an IS Egypt suicide bomber killed 30 people and injured at least 70 during Palm Sunday services at a Coptic Church in Tanta. In a coordinated attack on the same day, another IS Egypt suicide bomber killed 16 people and injured 66 outside Saint Mark’s Church in Alexandria.
- On May 26, ISIS operatives killed 28 people and wounded 25 after gunmen opened fire on a bus carrying Coptic Christians near Minya.
- On July 7, suspected ISIS operatives detonated a car bomb at a police checkpoint and then engaged in heavy gunfire, killing 26 people and wounding more than 20 others in the village of al-Barth near Rafah.
- On October 16, terrorists robbed a local bank of approximately US $1 million in local currency and traded gunfire with security forces in Al Arish, North Sinai, killing seven, including three civilians.
- On October 20, Ansar al-Islam, a new group with assessed links to al-Qa’ida, claimed responsibility for ambushing an ESF convoy near al-Bahariya Oasis in the Western Desert, killing at least 16 police officers and injuring 15, according to official statistics. Some press reports put the number of fatalities at more than 50 police officers.
- On November 24, in the deadliest terrorist attack in Egypt’s history, suspected ISIS-Sinai terrorists attacked a mosque in Al-Rawdah village in North Sinai, killing 312 people, including 27 children, and wounding 128. The attackers detonated explosives around the mosque when worshipers came out after Friday prayers and then engaged in gunfire.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: In April, parliament approved and the president ratified legislation eliminating some standard legal procedures and allowing for swifter prosecution in terrorism-related cases. The changes allow the detention of suspects without charge for a 14-day period, which is renewable once. Multiple media outlets and human rights groups criticized the government for using counterterrorism measures to crack down on political dissent.
The National Security Sector of the Ministry of Interior (MOI) is primarily responsible for counterterrorism functions in the Nile Valley but also works with other elements of the MOI, the Egyptian General Intelligence Service, and the Egyptian Armed Forces (EAF). There appeared to be limited interagency cooperation and information sharing among the relevant Egyptian government entities in 2017.
At border crossings and airports, Egyptian authorities checked for the presence of security features within travel documents. They also scanned and cross-referenced documents with criminal databases containing derogatory information. Egypt maintains a terrorist watchlist with a simple listing for Egyptian immigration officials at the ports of entry and detailed information maintained by the security services.
Egypt’s most significant physical border security concerns were along the borders with Gaza and Libya, although smuggling remained a problem along the border with Sudan. There have been several attacks against ESF checkpoints in Upper Egypt, likely due to smugglers or terrorist groups moving through the area. The ESF continued to maintain the de-populated, 1.5-kilometer buffer zone along the border with Gaza. Egypt maintained an increased military presence along the Libya border.
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-style regional body. Egypt’s Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing Combating Unit is a member of the Egmont Group.
The Egyptian government continued to improve its legal framework for countering terrorist financing. Egypt remains vulnerable to terrorist financing because of its large, informal, cash‑based economy and proximity to several terrorist organizations. The Central Bank of Egypt and the Federation of Egyptian Banks have taken steps to encourage Egyptians to enter the formal financial sector. Despite legislative efforts, exploitation of banking technologies and social media for terrorism funding also remained an issue.
For further information on money laundering and financial crimes, see the 2018 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), Volume II, Money Laundering and Financial Crimes.
Countering Violent Extremism (CVE): Egypt’s Dar Al-Iftaa, an official body that issues religious edicts, has taken the lead in CVE messaging via religious channels. Dar Al-Iftaa sends scholars to engage communities considered vulnerable to terrorist messaging. It also trains new muftis, organizes international outreach and speaking tours throughout Muslim majority countries and the West, publishes books and pamphlets to challenge the alleged religious foundations of terrorist ideology, runs rehabilitation sessions for former terrorists, and confronts terrorists in cyberspace. Dar Al-Iftaa also held an international conference in October on regulating fatwas as part of the government’s efforts to improve religious discourse against terrorist ideology. On November 15, the Supreme Council for Media Regulation, in coordination with Egypt’s religious institutions, issued a list of 50 religious scholars authorized to issue fatwas to curb aberrant fatwas and to counter extremist and radical ones.
Al-Azhar University continued to publish short posts related to tolerance and coexistence via its online platforms and co-sponsored a series of CVE conferences.
The Ministry of Islamic Endowments (Awqaf) is legally responsible for issuing guidance to which all imams throughout Egypt must adhere, including a weekly theme for Friday sermons. The Ministry also licenses all mosques in Egypt; however, many continued to operate without licenses. The Ministry has trained up to 250 female preachers as part of its outreach program to women who may be susceptible to terrorist recruitment. These preachers have teamed up with Christian nuns to promote religious dialogue. The government appoints and monitors the imams in licensed mosques and pays their salaries. In 2017, Awqaf published and translated numerous books on violent extremism and the protection of minorities, and it launched new initiatives to foster Muslim-Christian dialogue.
International and Regional Cooperation: Egypt continued to participate in the Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF), co-chairing the Criminal Justice and Rule of Law working group through September 2017. Egypt held a UN Security Council (UNSC) seat through the end of 2017 and presided over the UNSC Counter-Terrorism Committee. It is also a member of the African Union, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and the Arab League. Starting in September 2017, Egypt served as the co-chair of the GCTF Capacity Building in the East Africa Region working group.
Overview: By the end of 2017, Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), with the support of the U.S.-led Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, had reclaimed all of the territory that ISIS had captured in 2014 and 2015. As ISIS retreated from Mosul and other cities, its fighters used improvised explosive devices, homemade mines, and mortars to booby-trap homes, public spaces, and critical infrastructure to impede the movement of Iraq’s security forces and terrorize returning residents. Despite Iraqi progress on the battlefield, ISIS maintained the capability to conduct deadly terrorist attacks. U.S.-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization Kata’ib Hizballah continued to operate in Iraq during 2017, exacerbating sectarian tensions. Along with its nefarious activities, Kata’ib Hizballah continued to combat ISIS alongside the Iraqi military, police, and other Popular Mobilization Force units during the year. Iraq expanded its cooperation with the United States and other members of the international community to counter terrorism, including taking steps to dismantle ISIS’s financial activity. Iraq passed 31 resolutions aimed at stopping terrorist financing and made significant progress implementing its 2016 Anti-Money Laundering/Countering Terrorism Finance law, including establishing a committee that designated at least 30 individuals in 2017.
2017 Terrorist Incidents: According to the United Nations (UN), acts of terrorism, violence, and armed conflict with ISIS killed more than 3,000 civilians and injured more than 4,600 in 2017. ISIS’s continued ability to use captured and improvised military equipment allowed it to employ sophisticated methods including the use of armored vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices and chlorine gas. ISIS continued to commit atrocities involving the use of child soldiers, mass murder, and enslavement of ethnic and religious minorities, rape, forced marriage, and executing civilians, including women and children, attempting to flee its rule. As the ISF recaptured territory, ISIS killed thousands of Iraqi civilians, forcing residents to remain as human shields to discourage airstrikes and shooting those attempting to flee. ISIS continued to carry out suicide and hit-and-run attacks throughout the country, the most significant being the coordinated attack on a security checkpoint and restaurant on the outskirts of Nasariyah on September 14 that killed more than 80 Iraqis. Other prominent ISIS attacks included:
- On February 28, two suicide bombers detonated explosives in a market in Sadr City, Baghdad, killing at least 60 people.
- On June 9, a suicide bomber detonated his explosive belt at a crowded market in Musaiyab, Babylon, south of Baghdad, killing 30 people.
- Also on June 9, a female suicide bomber detonated her explosives belt in the market east of the city of Karbala, killing 30 people.
- On November 21, a powerful truck bomb exploded in Tuz Khurmatu, Kirkuk, killing at least 32 people.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: Iraq improved its ability to detect and prevent terrorist threats and continued to disrupt terrorist activities, detaining, arresting, and trying thousands of suspected terrorists in 2017. A lack of centralized databases hindered its ability to track the number of terrorism suspects it detained and arrested in 2017. Iraq has multiple security, law enforcement, and intelligence organizations with overlapping responsibilities, including the Counterterrorism Service, National Security Service, Iraqi National Intelligence Service, military intelligence, and assorted Ministry of Interior units including national and local police. Lack of interagency cooperation is a vulnerability that Iraq has identified through its security sector reform program. During the campaign to liberate Iraq, many Iraqi counterterrorism and law enforcement personnel also acted as front-line soldiers, which degraded their organizations’ ability to carry out their intended roles. Additionally, ISIS destroyed large portions of the law enforcement infrastructure, including prisons. Suspected terrorists are often detained in overcrowded facilities for extended periods.
Iraq re-established control over its border crossings with Syria in 2017 but border security remained a critical capability gap, as the ISF has limited capability to prevent smuggling across the Iraq-Syria border. Iraq conducted biographic and biometric screening at multiple land and air ports of entry and announced plans to begin issuing biometric passports in early 2018. It shared biometric information on known and suspected terrorists and exemplars of its identity documents with the United States, INTERPOL, and other international partners.
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Iraq is a member of the Middle East and North Africa Financial Action Task Force, a Financial Action Task Force (FATF)-style regional body. Iraq is under review by the FATF, due to a number of strategic deficiencies in its anti-money laundering/countering the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) regime.
Iraq has improved this regime, including issuing a set of regulations in accordance with its 2016 law, to help bolster its compliance with the FATF recommendations. In 2017, FATF postponed an evaluation on Iraq’s AML/CFT regime due to uncertainty about the continued applicability of the Federal AML/CFT Law in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region (IKR) following the IKR’s September 2017 referendum on independence.
In 2017, the Government of Iraq, including the Central Bank of Iraq, law enforcement, and the judiciary, continued to dismantle ISIS’s financial activity and safeguard its financial institutions from exploitation by ISIS. Iraq enforced a national directive to prohibit financial transactions with banks and financial companies located in ISIS-controlled areas. It cut off salary payments to government employees to prevent those salaries from being “taxed” by ISIS and prohibited exchange houses and transfer companies located in ISIS-held areas and those suspected of illicit activity from accessing U.S. banknotes in the central bank’s currency auctions. It also shared a list of banned exchange houses and money transfer companies with regional regulators and took judicial action against more than a dozen individuals and companies suspected of illicit financial activity. These actions ranged from business closures to the arrest of suspects. Iraq also barred ISIS financial facilitators Salim Mustafa Muhammad al Mansur and Umar al-Kubaysi, as well as al-Kubaysi’s company, the Al Kawthar Money Exchange, from Iraq’s financial system and froze all of their assets under Iraq’s jurisdiction.
Countering Violent Extremism (CVE): Iraq remained active in its strategic messaging to discredit ISIS and was finalizing its 2018 CVE strategy at the end of 2017. In November, it organized, planned, and held the Third International Conference to Counter ISIS Media, which focused on sharing information to combat terrorist ideology.
Many foreign terrorist fighters are in Iraqi custody and Iraq has detained a large number of foreign women and children with family affiliations to ISIS fighters. Additionally, displaced Iraqis, whose extended family members are suspected of supporting ISIS, remain vulnerable to revenge attacks or retribution killings, or are denied access to services. Consequently, ISIS‑affiliated families are often unwilling or unable to return to their place of origin. Iraq acknowledged that the return and reintegration of family members of suspected ISIS supporters is important to prevent future radicalization to violence.
In June, Iraq signed a bilateral agreement with Saudi Arabia that aims to combat violent extremism and terrorism through means like eliminating the financing of terrorism and combating sectarian discrimination.
International and Regional Cooperation: Iraq continued to work with multilateral and regional organizations including the United Nations, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and the Arab League to support counterterrorism efforts. In May, the UN Security Council Counter-Terrorism Committee held a meeting on Iraq’s counterterrorism assistance needs.
Israel and the Golan Heights
Overview: Israel was a committed counterterrorism partner in 2017, closely coordinating with the United States on a range of counterterrorism initiatives. For instance, Israel and the United States held numerous interagency counterterrorism dialogues to discuss the broad array of threats in the region and determine areas of collaboration to address these challenges.
Israel faced threats on its northern border from Lebanese Hizballah (LH) and along the north‑eastern frontier from LH and other groups in Syria. Israeli security officials and politicians expressed concerns that Iran was supplying LH with advanced weapons systems and technologies as well as assisting the group in creating infrastructure that would permit it to indigenously produce rockets and missiles to threaten Israel from inside of Lebanon and Syria.
Along its southern border with Egypt and Gaza, Israel faced threats from terror organizations including Hamas, Palestine Islamic Jihad (PIJ), and ISIS-Sinai Province. Israel continued to be concerned about Hamas and PIJ tunneling activities, and in October and December destroyed tunnels it found under the Israel-Gaza boundary. Israel suffered numerous rocket attacks originating from Gaza and the Sinai during 2017, none of which resulted in Israeli fatalities.
In addition, while the number of terrorist attacks declined since 2015, Israel still experienced numerous terrorist attacks, including those committed by lone actors with no clear affiliation to terrorist organizations.
The United States worked closely throughout the year with Israel to identify and develop new capabilities that meet a wide variety of requirements for countering terrorist threats, including those posed by unmanned aerial systems and underground tunnels. Through a cost-sharing bilateral relationship, both countries advanced their technical ability to defeat or mitigate the evolving capabilities of terrorists and criminal organizations.
2017 Terrorist Incidents: Israelis experienced numerous terrorist attacks in 2017 involving weapons ranging from rockets and mortars to small arms and knives. The wave of violence that began in late 2015, termed the “knife intifada,” continued to decrease in 2017. Stabbing attacks by Palestinians resulted in numerous Israeli injuries and fatalities. These attacks comprised the majority of terrorist attacks inside Israel. Many perpetrators of these attacks were neutralized during their acts of terrorism. The following is a partial list of the terrorist incidents that occurred during the year:
- On February 10, a Palestinian from the West Bank opened fire on a group of Israeli soldiers at a bus stop in Petah Tikva. Sadeq Nasser Abu Mazen, an 18-year-old man from a village near Nablus, fled the scene after local residences attempted to apprehend him. He entered a shop and opened fire until his weapon malfunctioned. He then used a screwdriver to stab an Israeli man in the shop. Local residents subdued the gunman and Israeli authorities took him into custody. The gunman wounded at least five people in the attack.
- On July 14, two Israeli Druze border police officers were killed and two more wounded after three male Arab-Israeli citizens opened fire near the Temple Mount/Haram al‑Sharif. Israeli police shot and killed the three attackers, whom authorities identified as Mohammed Ahmed Mafdal Jabrin, Mohammed Hamed Abed Eltif Jabrin, and Mohammed Ahmed Mohammed Jabrin. All were Arab citizens of Israel from the town of Umm al-Fahm, with apparent ties to the northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel.
- In December, several rockets launched from Gaza struck inside Israel. Israeli authorities confirmed that at least two rockets hit the city of Sderot, which resulted in damage to a kindergarten and several vehicles. Another rocket fell in an open area near the city of Ashkelon, with no reported casualties or significant damage. The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) responded with strikes against Hamas and PIJ positions in Gaza.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: In 2017, the Israeli government made no notable changes to the 2016 Combatting Terrorism Law, although the Knesset began action on an amendment during the year.
Israeli security forces took numerous significant law enforcement actions against suspected terrorists and terrorist groups in 2017. The examples below represent only a fraction of the law enforcement actions taken throughout the year.
- On February 7, the Israel Security Agency (ISA) arrested Valentin Vladimir Mazalevsky, an Israeli citizen residing in Shibli, for supporting ISIS and attempting to travel to Syria to join the terrorist organization. Israeli courts convicted Mazalevsky and sentenced him to 32 months’ imprisonment.
- On February 12, the ISA, with the assistance of the Israel National Police (INP), arrested Gaza resident Muhammad Murtaja, Gaza coordinator of a Turkish humanitarian aid organization, for attempting to provide Hamas with satellite photos to improve the precision of its rocket attacks against Israel. A subsequent investigation also uncovered Murtaja’s alleged diversion of the aid organization’s funds to the Hamas military wing.
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Israel is an observer to the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and is subject to evaluation by the Council of Europe’s Committee of Experts on the Evaluation of Anti-Money Laundering Measures and the Financing of Terrorism, a FATF‑style regional body. Israel’s financial intelligence unit, the Israeli Money Laundering and Terror Finance Prohibition Authority, is a member of the Egmont Group.
The Knesset approved a first reading of an amendment to the 2016 Combatting Terrorism Law on October 30, 2017. If passed, this amendment would transfer terrorism designation authority from the Ministers’ Committee for Security to the Minister of Defense and would ensure that Israel enforces United Nations (UN) sanctions on foreign terrorist organizations and individuals until it can complete a domestic review process of the designation.
Countering Violent Extremism (CVE): Israel’s national program, “City without Violence,” supported municipalities and local authorities in conducting programs to counter violence, crime, and violent extremism. Civil society supported this initiative.
The Arab-Israeli media portal, “Bokra,” sought to reduce tension through a social initiative using Facebook and videos featuring prominent figures who discouraged racism and violence such as sheikhs, rabbis, and priests.
International and Regional Cooperation: Israel continued its counterterrorism cooperation with a range of regional and international institutions, including the UN, the Organization of American States (OAS), the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. In December, Israel co-sponsored UN Security Council resolution 2396 on returning and relocating foreign terrorist fighters. Israel cooperated with numerous countries bilaterally on counterterrorism initiatives and programs of mutual benefit, in addition to those aimed at thwarting terrorist attacks and plots specifically against Israelis or Israeli interests abroad.
Overview: The Palestinian Authority (PA) continued its counterterrorism and law enforcement efforts in the West Bank, where Hamas, PIJ, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine remained present. The PA Security Forces (PASF) constrained the ability of those organizations to conduct attacks, including through arrests of Hamas members planning attacks against Israelis. Per Oslo-era agreements, the PA exercised varying degrees of authority over the West Bank. Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and Shin Bet arrested members of terrorist organizations operating in the West Bank.
The United States assisted the PA’s counterterrorism efforts by providing training, equipment, and infrastructure support to the PASF. U.S. training and support assisted in the PA’s continued development of professional, self-sufficient, and capable security forces. The United States also assisted the PA with criminal justice investigations and prosecutions of terrorist financing and terrorist-related activity.
Palestinians committed acts of violence and terrorism in the West Bank in 2017. The heightened period of violence from October 2015 to April 2016 decreased in 2017. However, Palestinians continued to commit stabbings, shootings, and vehicular attacks against Israelis.
Israelis, including settlers, committed acts of violence, including “price tag” attacks (property crimes and violent acts by extremist Jewish individuals and groups against Palestinians) in the West Bank in 2017.
Hamas maintained security control of Gaza. Several militant groups launched rocket attacks against Israel from Gaza. The primary limitation on PA counterterrorism efforts in Gaza remained Hamas’ control of the area and the resulting inability of the PASF to operate there.
The PA and PLO continued to provide “martyr payments” to the families of Palestinian individuals killed carrying out a terrorist act. The PA and PLO also provided payments to Palestinians in Israeli prisons, including those convicted of acts of terrorism against Israelis. Israeli government officials criticized this practice as incentivizing acts of terror. These payments and separate canteen stipends that the Israeli government allows for prisoners were first initiated by the PLO in 1965 and have continued under the PA since the Oslo Accords with Israel.
2017 Terrorist Incidents:
- In January, four Israeli soldiers were killed and approximately 13 others wounded when a Palestinian man used a heavy truck for a vehicular attack in Jerusalem. Soldiers and a civilian who were at the scene shot and killed the attacker.
- In July, a Palestinian resident of a nearby village stabbed and killed three Israeli civilians in their family home in the West Bank Israeli settlement of Halamish. Another member of the family sustained injuries. Police and IDF arrested the attacker after an off-duty soldier shot and wounded him.
- In September, a Palestinian man from the West Bank village of Beit Surik shot and killed an Israeli Border Police officer and two Israeli security guards outside the West Bank settlement of Har Adar, northwest of Jerusalem. Israeli security officials shot and killed the attacker at the scene.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: The PA lacked comprehensive legislation specifically tailored to counterterrorism, although existing Palestinian laws criminalize actions that constitute terrorist acts. Presidential decrees prohibit incitement to violence, illegal associations, providing financial support to terrorist groups, and acts against PLO agreements with other states (an indirect reference to the Oslo Accords with Israel). Other decrees also criminalize armed militias and assistance to such militias as well as carrying unlicensed weapons and explosives. The Palestinian parliament, the Palestinian Legislative Council, has not met since 2007 and is thus unable to pass new legislation.
The Preventive Security Organization (PSO) is the key PA institution that works to prevent internal terrorist attacks and investigates security-related criminal conduct. In practice, the General Intelligence Organization also plays a critical role in this effort as does, to a lesser extent, the Military Intelligence Organization. The United States assisted the PSO and the Security Forces 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. The United States also helped enhance cooperation between security service investigators and public prosecutors.
The PA advanced its forensic capabilities with the opening of the Palestinian Civil Police (PCP) forensic laboratory in November 2016 and continued its operation throughout 2017. The laboratory conducted basic manual analyses and examinations of firearm evidence, document examination, and drug and chemical analysis. The PA also augmented its ability to examine and compare unknown fingerprints with the delivery by the U.S. government of 40 fingerprint scanners, which are now used by law enforcement across the West Bank.
Per the Oslo-era Accords, Israel controlled border security in the West Bank.
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: The PA is a member of the Middle East and North Africa Financial Action Task Force, a Financial Action Task Force-style regional body.
The Palestinian Financial Follow-Up (FFU) Unit is the PA’s financial intelligence unit. Banks file suspicious transaction reports and currency transaction reports electronically through the FFU computer system. In 2017, banks filed 118 STRs compared to 117 in 2016.
The Palestinian Monetary Authority (PMA) increased regulations and restrictions on the more than 300 money changers in the West Bank. For example, the PMA increased the capital requirement from US $250,000 to US $500,000 for money changers to register with the PMA before they are allowed to operate. Additionally, the PMA imposed reporting requirements in 2017 on money changers for amounts over US $7,000. The PMA also required that money changers have US $1 million in capital before the PMA will authorize international transactions. Money changers in Gaza were licensed and regulated by Hamas. According to business contacts in Gaza, Hamas does not impose reporting requirements on Gaza-based money changers.
Countering Violent Extremism (CVE): The PA’s Palestinian Broadcasting Company’s code of conduct states it does not allow programming that encourages “violence against any person or institution on the basis of race, religion, political beliefs, or sex.” Some official PA media channels, as well as social media accounts affiliated with the ruling political movement Fatah, have featured content praising or condoning acts of violence. Palestinian leaders did not always publicly condemn individual terrorist attacks nor speak out publicly against members of their institutions who advocated for violence. PA President Abbas maintained a public commitment to non-violence, however.
The PA maintains control over the content of Friday sermons delivered in approximately 1,800 West Bank mosques to ensure that they do not endorse incitement to violence. Weekly, the PA Minister of Awqaf and Religious Affairs distributed approved themes and prohibits incitement to violence.
International and Regional Cooperation: The Palestinian Authority is an active member of the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. In September 2017, the “State of Palestine” acceded to INTERPOL despite Israeli objections. PA justice and security leaders continued to participate in regional conferences and meetings to combat terrorism. PASF personnel attended a variety of international training courses related to counterterrorism at training facilities in Jordan, Europe, and the United States.
Overview: Jordan remained a committed partner on counterterrorism and countering violent extremism in 2017. As a regional leader in the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, Jordan played an important role in Coalition successes in degrading the terrorist group’s territorial control and operational reach. Although Jordan experienced a decrease in terrorist activity in 2017 compared to the previous year, the country faced a continued threat posed by terrorist groups, both domestically and along its borders. Jordanian security forces thwarted several plots and apprehended numerous terrorists. Following several high-profile attacks in 2016, Jordan took important steps to improve coordination among the security services for terrorism response capabilities and prevented several terrorist attacks.
Jordan remained a target for terrorist groups (including ISIS and al-Qa’ida) for several reasons, including its proximity to regional conflicts in Iraq and Syria, the state’s official rejection of Salafi-Jihadi interpretations of Islam, and its membership in the Defeat-ISIS Coalition. Terrorist entities continued to express interest in attacking soft targets, such as high-profile public events, hotels, tourist sites, places of worship, restaurants, schools, and malls.
In June, the Border Guard Force engaged and killed three attackers on motorcycles attempting to enter Jordan from Syria near the Rukban border camp.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: There were no significant changes since 2016 on counterterrorism legislation, law enforcement capacity, or the State Security Court (SSC).
During 2017, Jordanian authorities took legal action against numerous individuals accused of terrorism under Jordanian law, including rulings on previous years’ cases of terrorism. State Security Court verdicts related to terrorism are published almost daily in local media. Among the most notable cases is the conviction of several terrorists arrested in a preemptive 2016 raid on a suspected ISIS safehouse in Irbid. The operation lasted 12 hours and resulted in the death of one JAF officer and seven suspected terrorists. Some of the more prominent cases follow:
- On September 13, the SSC convicted 17 defendants of attempting to join terrorist organizations including ISIS and al-Nusrah Front, and promoting the ideology of a terrorist group. The sentences ranged between three and 15 year prison terms.
- On October 4, the SSC sentenced 11 people to hard labor ranging between three and five years for promoting terrorist ideology and attempting to join terrorist groups. The court also convicted two women of terrorist recruiting and promoting ISIS ideologies.
- On December 4, the SSC convicted five Syrians of aiding ISIS to carry out a 2016 car bomb attack near the Rukban border camp, which killed seven Jordanian border guards. One was sentenced to the death penalty, three to lifetime sentences of hard labor, and the fifth was cleared of terrorism-related charges, but sentenced to two years imprisonment for illegal entry and exit into the country. Four admitted receiving monthly payments from ISIS. The defendant sentenced to death filmed the attack on his mobile phone and shared the footage with ISIS.
- The SSC prosecuted several other individuals in 2017 for propagating ISIS ideology and affiliation with a terrorist organization. Sentences for such cases typically ranged from two- to 15-year prison terms.
There were no significant changes on border security since 2016. The Jordan-Iraq border crossing at Karama/Treybil reopened on August 30, 2017. Jordan conducts official screening of travelers at Ports of Entry, including at airports, and uses biometric systems in line with international standards.
Throughout 2017, Jordanian security services disrupted a number of terrorist plots in various stages of operational planning. Examples included a proposed attack at the Marka Military Airport in Amman with a suicide belt, a plot to down a U.S. aircraft at Marka with a rocket‑propelled grenade, proposed attacks on a military bus and tourist sites, and plans to kidnap tourists at the Roman theater in downtown Amman.
A U.S. criminal complaint was unsealed in March charging Ahlam Aref Ahmad Al-Tamimi, a Jordanian national in her mid-30s, with conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction against U.S. nationals outside the United States resulting in death. The charge is related to her participation in an August 9, 2001, suicide bomb attack at a restaurant in Jerusalem that killed 15 people, including two U.S. nationals. Four other U.S. nationals were among the approximately 122 others injured in the attack. Also unsealed was a warrant for Al-Tamimi’s arrest and an affidavit in support of the criminal complaint and arrest warrant. Jordan’s courts have ruled that their constitution forbids the extradition of Jordanian nationals.
The Department of State’s Antiterrorism Assistance (ATA) program provided four mentors for a three-year program to support enhancing the Government of Jordan’s law enforcement capabilities. One mentor was assigned to the Public Security Directorate’s Criminal Investigation Department, one to its Forensics Lab, and two to its K-9 Unit.
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, and is also a member of the Coalition’s Counter-ISIS Finance Group. Jordan’s financial intelligence unit, the Anti Money Laundering and Counter Terrorist financing Unit (AMLU Jordan), is a member of the Egmont Group. There were no significant changes in Jordan’s countering the financing of terrorism regime since 2016. The number of suspicious transaction reports received by AMLU Jordan in 2017 was on track to exceed 2016, with 590 suspicious transaction reports through November 29, compared to 602 in all of 2016. For further information on money laundering and financial crimes, see the 2018 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), Volume II, Money Laundering and Financial Crimes.
Countering Violent Extremism (CVE): King Abdullah II continued to promote his “Amman Message” of 2004, calling for tolerance and peace within the Islamic community and rejecting “wanton aggression and terrorism.” The Jordanian government’s CVE efforts included counter‑messaging and religious education, awareness‑raising, and rehabilitation support for former terrorists. Jordan worked with the UN Development Program to create a National Strategy on Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism, with the goal of establishing roles and responsibilities for government entities and promoting the involvement of non-governmental organizations, civil society, and the private sector. The Jordanian government took steps to centralize training of imams and messaging for Friday prayers in an effort to forestall what it viewed as radical versions of Islam. The Jordanian cities Karak and Zarqa are members of the Strong Cities Network.
International and Regional Cooperation: Jordan is a major non-North Atlantic Treaty Organization ally and founding member of the Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF), is part of NATO’s Mediterranean Dialogue, and is a member of the Arab League and the Organization for Islamic Cooperation. Jordan co-chairs the GCTF Foreign Terrorist Fighter working group with the United States.
In 2017, King Abdullah hosted international leaders for two sessions of the Aqaba Process, a forum he launched in 2015 to maintain international and regional cooperation in the fight against terrorism. These meetings focused on Southeast Asia and West Africa.
Jordan hosted the meeting of the Small Group of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS on November 15.
Jordan hosted and conducted training for Palestinian Authority Security Forces and Civil Defense, in addition to other police forces from around the region.
Overview: During 2017, the Government of Kuwait initiated new lines of effort as part of its multi-agency endeavor to foster moderation and address violent extremism. New initiatives included imam training and school outreach programs as well as a new TV channel targeting demographics thought more susceptible to radicalization to violence. Kuwait took important steps to implement the United Nations (UN) Security Council ISIL (Da’esh) and al-Qa’ida sanctions regime, and joined both the Egmont Group and the Terrorist Financing Targeting Center (TFTC), a U.S.-Gulf Cooperation Council(GCC) initiative announced during President Trump’s May visit to Saudi Arabia. Despite continued efforts by ISIS to target Kuwait, there were no terrorist incidents in its territory in 2017. Kuwait was an active partner in post-ISIS stabilization and reconstruction efforts in Iraq. Kuwait also co-chaired and participated in numerous meetings for the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS. During the second U.S.-Kuwait Strategic Dialogue, held in Washington, D.C. in September, Kuwait signed a counterterrorism information-sharing arrangement aimed at deterring terrorist attacks and enhancing the bilateral security partnership with the United States.
In July, the Kuwaiti Higher Authority for Communication established a new Directorate for Cybersecurity, which it tasked, inter alia, with “fighting violent extremism.”
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: There were no substantial changes in counterterrorism legislation since 2016.
In April, authorities in the Philippines arrested and extradited to Kuwait a 40-year old Kuwaiti ISIS foreign terrorist fighter. The Kuwaiti Public Prosecutor pressed charges of manufacturing explosives and attempting to carry out terrorist attacks in Kuwait.
In June, a criminal court sentenced to life an Egyptian expatriate for the attempted murder of three U.S. military servicemen in October 2016. In the same month, the Court of Cassation (Kuwait’s highest appeal’s court) upheld lower court imprisonment verdicts against three ISIS members, including the group’s leader in Kuwait.
In June, the Court of Cassation issued appeal verdicts for the 26 suspects convicted of amassing a large cache of ammunition, weapons, and explosives at a farm near the Iraqi border in August 2015. The court commuted one of the two death sentences issued by the lower court. It increased the sentences issued by the lower court against 19 defendants and upheld the acquittals of the remaining appellants. In August, after weeks of speculation that 16 of the 19 appellants in the case had escaped to Iran, Kuwaiti authorities announced their re-arrest and remand to prison to begin serving their sentences.
In September, the Court of Appeals reduced the sentence from seven to five years imprisonment of a 19-year-old Kuwaiti man convicted of plotting to bomb a Shia mosque and a police station in 2016.
In October, the Public Prosecutor filed terrorism finance charges against three Syrian expatriates in Kuwait for allegedly transmitting collected charitable donations to ISIS in Syria. Also in October, the Appeals Court rejected a petition from UN-designated Kuwaiti terrorism financer Jaber al-Jalahmah to unfreeze his assets.
During the course of 2017, the Ministry of Interior sent 35 of its law-enforcement personnel to the United States to complete several short-term training programs as part of Kuwait’s efforts to build its counterterrorism capacity.
In September, as part of the bilateral Strategic Dialogue, Kuwait and the United States expressed their intent to expand their partnership in counterterrorism, including through the creation of a security committee focused on improving the information exchange on foreign terrorist fighters.
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Kuwait is a member of the Middle East and North Africa Financial Action Task Force, a Financial Action Task Force (FATF)-style regional body, and served as its president in 2017. Kuwait’s Financial Intelligence Unit became a member of the Egmont Group in July 2017. Kuwait is also a member of the Defeat-ISIS Coalition’s Counter-ISIS Finance Group.
In October, Kuwait joined the United States and GCC member countries in announcing 13 designations under each country’s respective domestic authorities of individuals and entities affiliated with AQAP and ISIS-Yemen. This was the first such cooperative measure under the newly established TFTC, which acts as an information sharing and coordinating body for the Gulf countries’ terrorism financing efforts. Kuwait’s National Committee on Combating Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing finalized its National Risk Assessment with the help of the World Bank at the end of 2017.
The Central Bank of Kuwait implemented a “same business-day” turnaround policy for implementing new UN terrorist financing-related sanctions, which has proven difficult for local bank compliance departments to achieve. Banks are now required to monitor UN sanctions lists proactively as well those made domestically by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Countering Violent Extremism (CVE): In October, the Ministry of Education started implementing an eight-month program to fight “extremist ideologies” at all public schools through teacher training and student counseling programs. As part of the government’s National Plan to Reinforce Moderation, the Ministry of Information launched a youth-dedicated TV channel with programming targeting audiences believed to be at higher risk of radicalization to violence. The Ministry of Islamic Affairs started a training program for imams and sent teams to social salons (diwaniyas) to engage attendees and detect the potential presence of radicalizing influencers and recruiters.
The Kuwaiti government founded a dedicated bureau in the Ministry of Information to engage youth on social media platforms. The bureau has established a presence on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and SnapChat.
International and Regional Cooperation: In March, Kuwait hosted and co-chaired the Defeat‑ISIS Coalition’s Foreign Terrorist Fighters working group. More than 100 counterterrorism experts and diplomats from more than 40 coalition partners participated. Kuwait went on to participate in nine meetings for various working groups of the Coalition in Amman, Berlin, Copenhagen, London, Rome, Vienna, and Washington, D.C., throughout the year. Additionally, Kuwait joined the International Cooperation Review Group meeting in Rome in September to explore ways to stabilize the Syrian city of Raqqa after its liberation from ISIS. Kuwait participated in two meetings for the FATF in Valencia, Spain and Buenos Aires, in addition to hosting a third one in December. In July, the Kuwaiti government announced that it would host an international donor conference for Iraq in early 2018. Kuwait is an active member of the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. As a member of the GCC, Kuwait has been playing a lead role in mediating the GCC dispute between Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates over claims of Qatari support to terrorism.
Overview: Lebanon was a committed ally in the defeat-ISIS fight during 2017, and its ground forces represented one of the most effective counterterrorism partners in the region. The United States provided security assistance and training to the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), and worked with Lebanon’s defense and law enforcement organizations, such as the Internal Security Forces (ISF), to build its counterterrorism capabilities.
Terrorist groups operating in Lebanon included U.S. government-designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations Hizballah, ISIS, Hamas, and the Abdullah Azzam Brigades. Hizballah remained the most capable terrorist organization in Lebanon, controlling areas in the Bekaa Valley, southern Lebanon, and south Beirut. Even though the Lebanese government reaffirmed its official policy of disassociation in 2017, Hizballah continued its military role in Syria in support of the Syrian regime and admitted that it has a military presence in Iraq. Lebanon’s 12 Palestinian refugee camps, particularly the largest, Ain el-Helweh, remained outside the jurisdiction of local security forces and posed a security threat due to potential militant recruitment and terrorist infiltration.
In 2017, the Lebanese security forces sought to impede Sunni foreign terrorist fighter flow to and from Syria and Iraq via border security and counterterrorism operations, including increased security measures at airports, border crossings, and ports to prevent the flow of ISIS and al‑Nusrah Front (ANF) fighters to Syria and Iraq. In August, the Lebanese government was involved in an arrangement that led to the departure of 4,800 al-Qa’ida-affiliated Syrian fighters from Aarsal, Lebanon to Idlib, Syria, and 670 ISIS fighters from Raas Baalbek, Lebanon into Syria. Lebanese President Michael Aoun declared “victory over terrorism” following an August 2017 LAF campaign to expel ISIS militants along the Lebanese-Syrian border near Aarsal. It was the LAF’s largest and most successful military operation in over a decade. Lebanon is a member of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, and participates in all four of the Coalition’s civilian working groups.
2017 Terrorist Incidents:
- On January 21, Lebanese security forces thwarted an attempted suicide bomber at a coffee shop in Beirut.
- On May 26, an ISIS-affiliated suicide bomber detonated an explosive vest, wounding several Lebanese soldiers during a raid by Lebanese soldiers in Aarsal.
- On June 30, five suicide bombers and a sixth militant killed one civilian and wounded seven Lebanese soldiers during a LAF raid on two Syrian refugee camps near Aarsal.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: Lebanon does not have a comprehensive counterterrorism law, but several articles of Lebanon’s criminal code are used to prosecute acts of terrorism. Lebanon’s confessional power-sharing system and Hizballah’s restriction of access to areas under its control hinders implementation of these articles. Hizballah’s political power make consensus on any anti-Hizballah legislation impossible.
The LAF, ISF, Directorate of General Security, and General Directorate of State Security are the primary government agencies responsible for counterterrorism. The law enforcement capacity of these agencies was overstretched due to the magnitude of terrorism-related threats. Although inter-service cooperation was inconsistent, services took steps to improve information sharing and were receptive to additional capacity building.
Department of State Antiterrorism Assistance (ATA) in 2017 focused on border security and building law enforcement’s investigative and leadership capabilities. The Department of State also provided assistance to improve ISF capabilities through a program that includes construction of training facilities, establishment of a secure radio communications system, and the provision of vehicles and protective gear. In 2017, the Department of State’s Counterterrorism Partnerships Fund program planned to build on the ATA program and provide ISF with assistance to further enhance its digital investigative capabilities.
The LAF has primary responsibility for securing Lebanon’s borders and worked collaboratively with other Lebanese security services to do so. Security services increased border security measures to prevent the flow of ISIS and ANF fighters to Syria and Iraq, with an emphasis on detecting counterfeit passports. The Directorate of General Security, under the Ministry of Interior, controls immigration and passport services and collects biographic data for travelers at the airport, but it does not collect biometric data at land borders. Lebanon collects and disseminates Passenger Name Record data for commercial flights, and in 2017, began collecting Advanced Passenger Information.
In addition to the major military victory in August to clear ISIS militants from the Syrian‑Lebanese border, the Lebanese security services disrupted multiple terrorist networks and made several high profile arrests in 2017. On April 22, the LAF killed an ISIS leader and detained 10 other suspected militants in Aarsal. On November 15, the army arrested Mustafa al‑Hujeiri, a senior Sunni extremist figure and cleric involved in the 2014 kidnapping of 30 Lebanese soldiers and policemen.
The United States maintained close ties with the Lebanese security services, both receiving and providing support. Several individuals on the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation’s most wanted list and the Department of State's Rewards for Justice are reportedly located in Lebanon.
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Lebanon is a member of the Middle East and North Africa Financial Action Task Force (MENAFATF), a Financial Action Task Force-style regional body. The Central Bank of Lebanon’s financial intelligence unit, the Special Investigation Commission (SIC), is a member of the Egmont Group. The SIC Secretary is the Vice-Chairman worldwide of the Egmont Group. Lebanon is a member of the Counter-ISIS Finance Group (CIFG), a working group of the Defeat-ISIS Coalition.
The Central Bank of Lebanon and members of the Association of Lebanese Banks reasserted their commitment to fully implement the U.S. Hizballah International Financing Prevention Act (HIFPA) of 2015, in accordance with Central Bank directives. They met frequently with U.S. government officials to understand compliance and potential new auditing and reporting requirements related to the proposed 2017 amendments to HIFPA.
Cooperation between the SIC and local enforcement authorities on terrorist financing cases improved in 2017. During the first nine months of 2017, the SIC received 12 terrorism and terrorism financing cases from local sources. During the same period, the SIC referred seven terrorism financing cases to the General Prosecutor.
Countering Violent Extremism (CVE): Several government institutions and civil society organizations conducted CVE programs and messaging platforms. The UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon continued to work with the prime minister’s office on advancing a “National Action Plan to Prevent Violent Extremism.” The LAF developed a comprehensive counter-messaging strategy that amplifies moderate voices and uses television spots, social media, billboards, and SMS texts to counter terrorist narratives. The Lebanese cities Madjal Anjar, Saida, and Tripoli are members of the Strong Cities Network.
International and Regional Cooperation: Lebanon supported counterterrorism efforts in regional organizations and participated in counterterrorism finance programs as a member of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the Arab League, and the Union of Arab Banks. In the framework of MENAFATF and the Egmont Group, Lebanon offered training to regional peers in international standards to combat terrorist financing. Lebanon voiced its commitment to fulfilling relevant UNSCRs, including 1559 (2004), 1680 (2006), and 1701 (2006). The Special Tribunal for Lebanon, an international body investigating the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, received Lebanon’s annual contribution of approximately US $32.5 million in June. The LAF also partnered on security assistance initiatives with several nations, most regularly with the United Kingdom.
Overview: Libya’s Government of National Accord (GNA) proved a reliable counterterrorism partner in 2017, and worked closely with the United States to counter the spread of terrorist groups such as ISIS-Libya and al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). While Libya has made considerable progress against ISIS, including dislodging ISIS fighters from its stronghold of Sirte in 2016, terrorist groups have taken advantage of political instability and limited government presence in other parts of the country. Through coordination with the GNA, the United States conducted periodic precision airstrikes on ISIS-Libya desert camps and AQIM cells, degrading their numbers and displacing remaining elements to other areas both inside and outside Libya. Toward the end of 2017, ISIS elements were in a position to carry out only local-level operations. The GNA has also cooperated with the United States on the investigation of suspected terrorists.
While Sirte had previously served as ISIS-Libya’s center of governance in Libya, ISIS-Libya cells also existed in other areas of the country, including the eastern Libyan cities of Benghazi and Darnah. The eastern Libya-based “Libyan National Army” (LNA) drove groups of ISIS and other extremist fighters out of Benghazi as part of its campaign to gain control of Benghazi. The LNA, led by General Khalifa Haftar and not aligned with the GNA, has expressed the desire to rid Libya of terrorist groups.
Other terrorist organizations, including AQIM, maintained a presence in Libya. These groups continued to take advantage of the political instability throughout the country, but efforts by GNA-aligned forces, international partners, and the LNA have degraded terrorist capabilities in some areas. AQIM has sought to establish a longer-term presence in Libya.
2017 Terrorist Incidents: ISIS-Libya and al-Qa’ida-aligned terrorists carried out dozens of attacks throughout 2017. Methods included suicide bombers, vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIED), ambushes, kidnappings, and targeted assassinations. The following list details only a small fraction of the terrorist incidents that occurred.
- On August 23 in al-Jufra, ISIS fighters killed 11 individuals and injured one during an attack on a road checkpoint. The victims were either shot or beheaded.
- On October 4 in Misrata, two suicide bombers detonated explosives inside the Misrata Courthouse killing four civilians and injuring dozens. Authorities discovered an unexploded VBIED. ISIS claimed responsibility.
- On October 25 in Ajdabiya, two LNA soldiers were killed and four injured at a roadside checkpoint. One victim was burned in his car and the other beheaded. ISIS claimed responsibility.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: Libya lacks a comprehensive counterterrorism law, although the Libyan penal code (under Title 2, Section 1, Chapter 1, Article 170 and Title 2, Chapter 2, Article 207) criminalizes offenses that may threaten national security, including terrorism, the promotion of terrorist acts, and the handling of money in support of such acts. Libya has ratified the African Union’s (AU) Convention on the Prevention and Combating of Terrorism, which requires states to criminalize terrorist acts under their national laws.
The GNA has continued to support and seek international cooperation to combat ISIS. Neither the GNA, nor factions in the east associated with the House of Representatives in Tobruk, has produced a strategy to combat the terrorist threat. The GNA conducted internal consultations to develop a counterterrorism strategy, but had not passed any legislation as of December 31, 2017. In November 2017, the Presidency Council appointed a new counterterrorism coordinator, who sits in the office of the prime minister, to coordinate among Libyan counterterrorism stakeholders and with the international community.
A multitude of organizations under the GNA claimed counterterrorism responsibilities, such as the Counterterrorism Unit, the Presidential Guard, the Central Investigations Division, General Investigations Division, and the Libyan Intelligence Service. Due to the limited reach of these organizations, however, they were not effective in deterring or reducing terrorist activities beyond their localized areas of control. Libyan law enforcement personnel lacked clear mandates and the capacity to detect, deter, respond to, or investigate terrorist incidents due to continued political and security force fragmentation.
There were no reported terrorism-related prosecutions in 2017. In many parts of Libya, security and law enforcement functions, including detention of terrorist elements, are provided by armed groups rather than state institutions. National police and security forces are fragmented, inadequately trained and equipped, and lack clear reporting chains and coordination mechanisms. Security and law enforcement officials, including prosecutors and judges, have been targeted in kidnappings and assassinations. Libya’s military forces are similarly weak and fragmented. Formal security structures are often overmatched by non-state armed groups.
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 fuel, goods, weapons, antiquities, narcotics, migrants, and foreign terrorist fighters that pose serious security challenges to the region. Libyan border security forces were generally poorly trained and underequipped, and participated in illicit cross-border trade. Border security infrastructure has not been repaired or replaced in nearly a decade. Ongoing conflicts since 2011 have affected border security infrastructure along Libya’s border with Tunisia.
Security at Libya’s airports is minimal, with limited document screening, use of Passenger Name Record systems, or biometric technology. Existing legislation outlining the responsibilities of various government agencies in border management is vague and often contradictory, resulting in ad hoc and poorly coordinated efforts. In November 2017, the International Organization for Migration estimated there were more than 700,000 migrants in Libya.
Libya lacked the resources, manpower, and training to conduct sufficient maritime patrols to interdict or dissuade illicit maritime trafficking and irregular migration, although Italy and the European Union (EU) began training members of the Libyan Naval Coastguard to increase the effectiveness of the organization.
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. The GNA has cooperated 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.
The Department of State provided training in securing airports against the threat of terrorism, which included preventive security measures consisting of access control, passenger and cabin baggage screening, hold baggage screening, and air and mail cargo handling.
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. Libya is also a member of the Counter-ISIS Finance Group, a working group of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS. Libya adopted an Anti-Money Laundering and Combating the Financing of Terrorism Decree-Law on October 24 and a regulation to implement UN Security Council resolutions related to Terrorism and the Financing of Terrorism on November 1. For further information on money laundering and financial crimes, see the 2018 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), Volume II, Money Laundering and Financial Crimes.
Countering Violent Extremism (CVE): There were no significant changes since 2016.
Regional and International Cooperation: Many international organizations and diplomatic missions are reestablishing a presence in Tripoli after nearly all evacuated in 2014. Many other countries and organizations maintain a permanent presence in Tunis, Tunisia, to conduct diplomacy and outreach to Libya. The political conflict and limitations on the international presence in Libya hindered counterterrorism cooperation. International assistance increased in 2017, including U.S. government-provided training on airport security and land border management. Other border security initiatives, through the EU Border Assistance Mission, the UN Development Program, and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime focused on improving policing and criminal justice functions, and counterterrorism legislation and legal frameworks. Libya is an active member of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the Arab League.
Overview: Morocco has a comprehensive counterterrorism strategy that includes vigilant security measures, regional and international cooperation, and counter-radicalization policies. In 2017, Morocco’s counterterrorism efforts effectively mitigated the risk of terrorism, although the country continued to face sporadic threats, largely from small, independent terrorist cells, the majority of which claimed to be inspired by or affiliated with ISIS. During the year, authorities reported a decrease in the number of terrorist-related arrests (186) for the first time since 2013.
Following the August attacks in Barcelona, Morocco assisted the Spanish investigation and promised to expand cooperation to track terrorists of Moroccan origin radicalized abroad. The government remained concerned about the threat posed by the return of Moroccan foreign terrorist fighters (estimated at approximately 1,660) and their families. Morocco participates in the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS and, in September, renewed its term as co-chair of the Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF) with the Netherlands.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: Morocco effectively investigates, prosecutes, and sentences defendants charged under its comprehensive counterterrorism legislation enacted in 2003 and expanded in 2015. The legislation is in line with UN Security Council resolution (UNSCR) 2178 (2014).
Moroccan law enforcement units, coordinating with the Ministry of Interior, aggressively targeted and effectively dismantled terrorist cells by leveraging intelligence collection, police work, and collaboration with international partners. The Central Bureau of Judicial Investigation (BCIJ), which reports to the General Directorate for Territorial Surveillance and operates under the supervision of the public prosecutor of the Court of Appeals, is the primary law enforcement agency responsible for counterterrorism law enforcement.
The General Directorate for National Security has primary responsibility for conducting border inspections at ports of entry such as Casablanca’s Mohammed V Airport. Law enforcement officials and private carriers worked regularly with the United States to detect and deter individuals attempting to transit illegally and to address watchlisted or mala fide travelers. Moroccan airport authorities have excellent capabilities in detecting fraudulent documents, but lacked biometric screening capabilities. In addition, police, customs officers, and Gendarmerie Royal operate mobile and fixed checkpoints along the roads in border areas and at the entrances to major municipalities. Moroccan naval and coast guard units monitor and patrol Morocco’s extensive coastal waters, including the Strait of Gibraltar, to interdict illicit traffickers.
Morocco participated in a wide range of U.S.-sponsored programs to improve its technical and investigative capabilities, including financial investigation, intelligence analysis, and cybersecurity. Through the Trilateral Initiative funded by the Department of State’s Antiterrorism Assistance program, Morocco and the United States continued to deliver critical incident management training to African partners. In partnership with the Department of Defense and the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, Morocco’s Royal Armed Forces are taking tangible steps to protect critical infrastructure from cyber-attacks, control and protect logistical hubs, and ensure readiness to prevent or respond to a catastrophic chemical, biological or nuclear terrorist attack.
Moroccan authorities reported disrupting a number of alleged terrorist cells throughout the year, announcing that they had arrested 186 individuals and broken up nine cells planning to attack a range of targets, including public buildings and tourist sites.
- In March, BCIJ dismantled a 15-person cell dispersed amongst 10 cities, which planned to perpetrate attacks using explosives on soft targets and assassinate public and military officials.
- In August, cooperating with Spanish counterparts, Moroccan authorities arrested two suspects related to the Barcelona and Cambrils attacks, including one who was allegedly planning to attack the Spanish Embassy in Rabat.
- In October, BCIJ dismantled a cell linked to ISIS in Fes, arresting 11 suspects and uncovering a cache of guns, ammunition, knives, and explosive material at the alleged leader’s house in Khouribga.
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 (FIU), the Unité de Traitement du Renseignement Financier (UTRF), is a member of the Egmont Group. Morocco criminalizes money laundering and terrorist financing in accordance with international standards. Through November 2017, UTRF received 350 suspicious transaction reports. It has signed memoranda of understanding facilitating information exchange with regional FIUs, is working to update current legislation to better implement the UN Security Council ISIL (Da’esh) and al-Qa’ida sanctions regime, and is preparing a national risk assessment to inform more effective counter measures against terrorist financing. For further information on money laundering and financial crimes, see the 2018 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), Volume II, Money Laundering and Financial Crimes.
Countering Violent Extremism (CVE): Morocco has a comprehensive CVE strategy that prioritizes economic and human development in addition to oversight of the religious sphere and messaging. Morocco has accelerated its creation of education and employment initiatives for vulnerable youth. To counter religious extremism, Morocco promotes its moderate interpretation of the Maliki-Ashari school of Sunni Islam. The Ministry of Endowments and Islamic Affairs has developed an educational curriculum for Morocco’s nearly 50,000 imams, as well as the hundreds of African and European imams studying at Morocco’s international imam training center in Rabat, which expanded its capacity to 1,800 students in 2017. In Fes, Morocco hosts the Institute for African Islamic Religious Scholars, which brings together religious scholars from more than 30 African countries to promote scholarship and to counter terrorist ideology. Domestically, the royal Mohammedan League of Ulema (Rabita Mohammedia) counters radicalization to violence by producing scholarly research, ensuring conformity in educational curricula, and conducting youth outreach on religious and social topics.
In the prisons, the Department of State has supported General Delegation for Prison Administration and Reintegration (DGAPR) efforts to modernize prison management, develop prisoner classification tools that keep terrorists segregated from the mainstream prison population, and construct new more secure facilities. To rehabilitate returning foreign terrorist fighters, the DGAPR worked closely with National Center for Human Rights and religious leaders from Rabita Mohammedia. In August, the King pardoned 14 detainees following their renunciation of terrorist views after their successful completion of the DGAPR’s rehabilitation program.
The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) continued to address youth marginalization in areas known for recruitment by terrorist organizations by helping youth stay in school, develop skills, and become active in their communities. In addition, USAID’s Community Oriented Policing Activity provided opportunities for dialogue that has resulted in greater trust and a freer flow of information between police and communities.
International and Regional Cooperation: Morocco rejoined the African Union in 2017. Morocco is a founding member of the GCTF and is a current co-chair. In 2017, Morocco was a co-chair of the GCTF Foreign Terrorist Fighters working group with the Netherlands. The United States and Morocco were co-leading the Initiative on Addressing Homegrown Terrorism in partnership with the International Institute for Justice and Rule of Law (IIJ). Morocco is a member of the Global Initiative to Counter Nuclear Terrorism and the Proliferation Security Initiative. In December, Morocco co-sponsored UN Security Council resolution 2396 on returning and relocating foreign terrorist fighters. Morocco is an active member of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the Arab League.
Morocco, a Major Non-North Atlantic Treaty Organization ally, is a stable security-exporting partner that trains security, military, and law enforcement officials from sub-Saharan Africa and participates actively in the 5+5 Defense Initiative to address Mediterranean security issues. Morocco hosts the annual multilateral AFRICAN LION exercise and participates in multilateral regional training exercises, such as the maritime-focused PHOENIX EXPRESS and OBANGAME EXPRESS and the FLINTLOCK special operations exercise. Morocco is also an active member of the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership. Political disagreement between Morocco and Algeria over the status of Western Sahara remained an impediment to bilateral and regional counterterrorism cooperation in 2017.
Overview: Oman is an important regional counterterrorism partner that actively worked in 2017 to prevent terrorists from conducting attacks or using the country as a safe haven. The Omani government remains concerned about the conflict in Yemen and the potential for al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula and ISIS-Yemen to threaten Oman’s land and maritime borders. Omani officials regularly engaged with U.S. officials on the need to counter violent extremism and terrorism, but rarely broadcast their counterterrorism efforts publicly. The Government of Oman sought training and equipment from the U.S. government, commercial entities, and other countries to support its efforts to control Omani land, air, and maritime borders. Oman also used U.S. security assistance to improve its counterterrorism tactics and procedures. Oman is a member of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, the Saudi-led Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition, as well as the Riyadh-based Terrorist Finance Targeting Center. The Government of Oman issued a series of official statements condemning terrorist attacks in 2017.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: Royal Decree 8/2007 outlines specific penalties, including the death penalty and life imprisonment, for various terrorist acts, including establishment or leadership of a terrorist group, attempts to join a terrorist group, attempts to recruit for a terrorist group, development of an explosive or weapon, or takeover of any mode of transportation for purposes of terrorism.
Counterterrorism investigations, crisis responses, and border security capabilities were limited by local capacity and a challenging operating environment due to Oman’s extensive coastline and long, remote borders with Saudi Arabia and Yemen. Nevertheless, Oman had good interagency communication and coordination among its many agencies that have counterterrorism jurisdiction. The Sultan’s Special Forces and the Royal Oman Police (ROP) Special Task Force are Oman’s primary counterterrorism response forces. The Omani Internal Security Service and Royal Office also play key roles in securing Oman from terrorist threats. Omani authorities have developed specific plans to prevent or respond to terrorist attacks against soft targets.
The Government of Oman recognized the need to improve its capabilities and took advantage of U.S. counterterrorism and law enforcement training and assistance. In 2017, the ROP, Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Legal Affairs, Ministry of Transportation and Communication, and Ministry of Commerce and Industry participated in U.S. Export Control and Related Border Security (EXBS) programs designed to enhance the government’s interdiction capabilities at official ports of entry on land and at sea. A 10-week EXBS training program helped the Government of Oman establish a port control unit at the Port of Sohar. The port control unit, which will serve as a model at other Omani ports of entry, improves Omani interagency collaboration by placing representatives from Omani agencies responsible for interdiction into single units at each port.
Oman participated in the Department of State’s Antiterrorism Assistance program, which included training on border security, exercise development, interdicting terrorist activities, maritime security, fraudulent documents, medical skills, and crisis response. Omani security officials representing the ROP, the Public Authority for Civil Defense and Ambulance, and a number of civilian agencies participated in the training.
The Omani government sent senior military and civilian leaders to the Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies and the George C. Marshall Center for counterterrorism study and training.
The major deterrents to more effective law enforcement and border security are limited resources, nascent Omani interagency coordination, and the need for continued training to develop advanced law enforcement skills. Oman’s border with Yemen, which features rugged, mountainous terrain, further challenges border security efforts. Despite these significant hurdles, Omani authorities continued to make progress on the construction of a fence along the border with Yemen to prevent illegal entry into Oman, and the Omani and U.S. governments continued to engage in frequent border security-related training.
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Oman is a member of the Middle East and North Africa Financial Action Task Force, a Financial Action Task Force-style regional body. Royal Decree 30/2016, Oman’s countering the financing of terrorism (CFT) law, requires financial institutions, private industry, and non-profit organizations to screen transactions for money laundering or terrorist financin and requires the collection of know‑your‑customer data for wire transfers. The CFT law also consolidates CFT authority within the National Center for Financial Information and establishes the Center as an independent government entity. While progress has been made, a number of gaps remain. These include completing the drafting and implementation of certification procedures for anti-money laundering (AML) and CFT, issuing directives for the immediate freezing and seizure of the assets of persons and entities on the UN sanctions list under UN Security Council resolution 1267 (1999) and its successor resolutions, and designating wire transfer amounts for customer due diligence procedures. In May, Oman joined the Riyadh‑based Terrorist Finance Targeting Center, along with all other Gulf Cooperation Council countries and the United States. For further information on money laundering and financial crimes, see the 2018 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), Volume II, Money Laundering and Financial Crimes.
Countering Violent Extremism (CVE): Radicalization to violence in Oman was not considered a significant threat during 2017. The full nature and scope of Oman’s initiatives to address domestic radicalization and recruitment to violence were unclear, but it is believed that Oman maintains tightly controlled and non-public initiatives to counter terrorist recruitment.
As he has done in prior years, the Grand Mufti of Oman, Sheikh Ahmed al-Khalili, called on all Muslims to reject terrorism and promote tolerance in his popular and widely broadcast weekly television program. The government also continued to promote an advocacy campaign titled “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, “Tolerance, Understanding, Co‑existence – Oman’s Message of Islam,” was part of the government’s effort to enhance interfaith dialogue.
International and Regional Cooperation: Oman participates in the U.S.-Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Strategic Cooperation Forum, participated in the U.S.-GCC Riyadh summit in May, and attended the Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition meeting in November. Oman regularly votes in favor of counterterrorism measures in the UN General Assembly, the Arab League, and the Organization for Islamic Cooperation.
Overview: The United States and Qatar significantly increased counterterrorism cooperation in 2017, under the Counterterrorism Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed by the Secretary of State and Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani in July. In the MoU, Qatar and the United States set forth mutually accepted means of increasing information sharing, disrupting terrorism financing flows, and intensifying counterterrorism activities. At the November 8, 2017, U.S.-Qatar Counterterrorism Dialogue, the two governments affirmed the progress made on implementing the MoU and committed to expand bilateral counterterrorism cooperation. Qatar is an active participant in the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, is active in all Defeat-ISIS Coalition working groups, and has provided significant support in facilitating U.S. military operations in the region. Qatar hosts approximately 10,000 U.S. servicemen and women on two military installations critical to coalition efforts. Security services capable of monitoring and disrupting terrorist activities have maintained the status quo. In June, Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates unexpectedly severed diplomatic ties with and imposed sanctions on Qatar, alleging the government supported terrorist groups in the region, among other purported grievances.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: In July, the Qatari government promulgated Decree 11 of 2017, which amended the 2004 Law on Combating Terrorism. The amendment set out definitions of terrorism-related activities, penalties for terrorism-related offenses, and the establishment of a national designations list. In October, the U.S. government led a workshop for relevant Qatari authorities on the planned establishment of a domestic designations regime.
The State Security Bureau maintains an aggressive posture toward monitoring internal extremist and terrorism-related activities. The Ministry of Interior (MOI) and Internal Security Force are well-positioned to respond to incidents with rapid reaction forces that routinely engage in structured counterterrorism training and exercises. The Office of Public Prosecution is tasked with prosecuting all crimes, including any related to terrorism, and plays a significant role in terrorism investigations. Qatar maintains an interagency National Anti-Terrorism Committee (NATC) composed of representatives from more than 10 government agencies. The NATC is tasked with formulating Qatar’s counterterrorism policy, ensuring interagency coordination, fulfilling Qatar’s obligations to counter terrorism under international conventions, and participating in multilateral conferences on terrorism. U.S. officials met regularly with the chairman of the NATC to discuss implementation of the counterterrorism MoU and overall counterterrorism cooperation.
As a result of the counterterrorism MoU, the United States and Qatar significantly increased information sharing, including on identities of known and suspected terrorists. Aviation security information sharing also increased, as new protocols were agreed to and established. During 2017, MOI authorities cooperated with DHS officials to enhance screening capabilities of the approximately 50 million travelers that pass through Hamad International Airport each year.
U.S. technical assistance to Qatari law enforcement and judicial agencies increased, a result of the counterterrorism MoU. The Departments of Justice, State, and the Treasury led a workshop on domestic designations, while the FBI provided training on watchlists and terrorism financing investigations and the Department of Justice provided two advisors for capacity building within the Office of Public Prosecution. In February 2017, the Department of State and relevant Qatar agencies established a framework for ATA program security-related training in 2017-2019.
In June, Qatar expelled six Hamas members, including Saleh al-Arouri, one of the founders of the Izz al-Din al Qassam Brigades. Israel, in the past, has accused al-Arouri of plotting attacks in the West Bank.
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Qatar is a member of the Middle East North Africa Financial Action Task Force (MENAFATF), a Financial Action Task Force-style regional body. In 2017, Qatar commenced preparations for the 2019 MENAFATF Mutual Evaluation, including establishing an interagency task force, formalizing cooperation with the International Monetary Fund, and intensifying coordination with U.S. counterparts. Qatar’s financial intelligence unit, the Qatar Financial Information Unit, is a member of the Egmont Group. Qatar is a member of the Defeat-ISIS Coalition’s Counter-ISIS Finance Group and the Terrorist Financing Targeting Center (TFTC), a U.S.-Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) initiative announced during President Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia in May 2017.
In 2017, Qatar passed updated terrorism financing legislation. Decree 11 of 2017 defined terrorism financing-related activities, laid out penalties, and established a domestic designations list. Qatari legislation requires the Office of Public Prosecution to freeze the funds of individuals and organizations included on the UN Security Council ISIL (Da’esh) and al-Qa’ida sanctions list. The Qatar Central Bank works with financial institutions to confirm asset-freezing compliance with respect to these UN obligations.
Qatar deepened cooperation with the United States on combatting terrorism financing during 2017. In October, Qatar joined the United States and other TFTC countries in coordinated domestic designations of individuals and entities associated with AQAP and ISIS-Yemen.
Two UN-designated financiers who were acquitted in a 2015-2016 trial were placed under arrest and imprisoned in July 2017. The Qatari Attorney General initiated proceedings to appeal the prior acquittals. Additionally, Qatari authorities also placed under arrest two other terrorism financiers previously convicted in the 2015-2016 trial.
In July, Qatari authorities took sweeping measures to monitor and restrict the overseas activities of Qatari charities, requiring all such activity to be conducted via one of the two approved charities. Authorities also significantly increased procedures to monitor private donations. The sector is overseen by the Regulatory Authority for Charitable Activities, in coordination with the Central Bank and law enforcement agencies.
While the Government of Qatar has made progress on countering the financing of terrorism, terrorist financiers within the country are still able to exploit Qatar’s informal financial system.
Countering Violent Extremism (CVE): The core of Qatar’s CVE strategy remained intensive investment in education through the 45 entities comprising the Qatar Foundation. This includes Qatar campuses of six U.S. universities, as well as through its national university and the public K-12 school system. The government is undertaking a review of its K-12 education system and sought the input of U.S. academic institutions. The growing Qatar Foundation school system follows an International Baccalaureate curriculum, which is grounded in liberal education principles.
A Qatari foundation, Education Above All (EEA), provided educational opportunities to communities stricken by poverty or crisis, primarily in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East -- impacting an estimated 10 million children worldwide since 2013. Reach Out to Asia provided access to education for youth in that region. EEA's Al Fakhoora initiative provided scholarships to Palestinian and Syrian youth. These and other EEA initiatives are designed to facilitate understanding and education, and deter isolationist, xenophobic, and extremist thought and ideology.
Qatar continued its robust financial support for the Global Community Engagement and Resilience Fund, and in December hosted its seventh annual Board Meeting. Qatar continued to fund the Education for Justice Initiative, a CVE program focused on crime prevention and criminal justice implemented by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.
International and Regional Cooperation: Qatar is an active participant in the United Nations, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and the Arab League on counterterrorism activities. Qatar is also a founding member of the Global Counterterrorism Forum. Qatar was active in GCC activities, but the Gulf dispute that broke out in June froze most GCC-wide engagements. In December, Qatar co-sponsored UN Security Council resolution 2396 on returning and relocating foreign terrorist fighters.
Overview: Saudi Arabia continued to maintain a strong counterterrorism relationship with the United States and supported enhanced bilateral cooperation to ensure the safety of both U.S. and Saudi citizens within Saudi territories and abroad. The Crown Prince and Minister of Defense Mohammed bin Salman vowed October 24 to return Saudi Arabia to a country of “moderate Islam.” During President Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia in May 2017, the two countries released a Joint Strategic Vision Declaration announcing new initiatives to counter terrorist messaging and disrupt the financing of terrorism. Saudi Arabia remained a key member and active participant in the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS.
On November 4, the Saudi government announced a revision of its Counterterrorism and Counter Terror Financing Law (CT Law, detailed below) to reinforce its capacity to counter terrorism. Saudi Arabia implemented the UN Security Council ISIL (Da’esh) and al-Qa’ida sanctions regime. It expanded existing counterterrorism programs and messaging to address returning foreign terrorist fighters and leveraged terrorist finance provisions of the new CT Law to counter the funding of terrorist groups.
Saudi Arabia maintained a high counterterrorism operational tempo, made a number of highly publicized arrests of alleged terrorist suspects, and disrupted active terrorist cells across the Kingdom.
2017 Terrorist Incidents: On October 7, a terrorist conducted a small arms attack at one of the entrances to Al-Salam Palace in Jeddah that resulted in the deaths of two Royal Guards and the attacker. According to an official statement June 23, Saudi security forces thwarted a terrorist plot to carry out a major attack near the Grand Mosque in Mecca, resulting in the death of the suicide bomber near the mosque and the wounding of five security officers and six bystanders when the bomber blew himself up to avoid arrest.
On October 4, security officials released details of a counterterrorism operation targeting three locations in Riyadh that resulted in a raid of a presumed makeshift suicide vest factory and arrests or deaths of members of the suspected ISIS cell, who were reportedly in the final stages of executing a plot against two Ministry of Defense targets.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: King Salman issued major decrees July 20 amending the organizational structure of the Ministry of Interior (MOI) and creating a new independent domestic intelligence and counterterrorism authority called the State Security Presidency (SSP). In October, the Saudi government also established the National Cyber Security Authority to formalize its cybersecurity infrastructure and combat cyber threats. The Saudi government announced an expansive new CT Law November 4, updating its 2014 law. Among the most significant aspects, the new law expands the range of activities defined as “terrorist” crimes and transfers many of the counterterrorism authorities previously held by the MOI to the SSP and the new Public Prosecutor’s Office. Human rights organizations have asserted that the new law – like its predecessor – restricts freedom of expression and association by establishing an overly broad definition of terrorism that is applied to nonviolent offenses, including peaceful political or social activism.
On April 30, the Saudi government announced the arrest of 46 alleged militants belonging to a terrorist cell in Jeddah on charges related to the July 2016 attacks near the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina and the U.S. Consulate General in Jeddah.
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Saudi Arabia is a member of the Middle East and North Africa Financial Action Task Force, a FATF-style regional body. Its financial intelligence unit, the Saudi Arabia Financial Investigation Unit, is a member of the Egmont Group. In 2017, Saudi Arabia reaffirmed its commitment to countering terrorist financing in the Kingdom and the Gulf region. Saudi Arabia, along with the United States, co-chairs the Terrorist Financing Targeting Center (TFTC), a U.S.-Gulf Cooperation Council initiative announced during President Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia in May. In October, Saudi Arabia joined the United States and the other TFTC member countries in jointly announcing designations against individuals and entities supporting AQAP and ISIS-Yemen. The new CT Law aims to further buttress the government’s effort to obtain full membership in FATF.
Earlier in the year, the Government of Saudi Arabia directed domestic authorities to impose financial sanctions on individuals and entities providing support to or acting on behalf of Hizballah. The Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority (SAMA, the Kingdom’s central bank) suspended three leading money service businesses in late-September for deficient anti-money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) controls.
While the Kingdom has maintained strict supervision of the banking sector, tightened the regulation of the charitable sector, and stiffened penalties for financing terrorism, some funds are allegedly collected in secret and illicitly transferred out of the country in cash, sometimes under the cover of religious pilgrimages. To address this issue, the Saudi government continued efforts to counter bulk cash smuggling. Regional turmoil and the sophisticated use of social media have enabled charities outside of Saudi Arabia with ties to terrorists to solicit contributions from Saudi donors, but the government has worked to pursue and disrupt such funding streams.
Countering Violent Extremism (CVE): Saudi Arabia continued to lay the groundwork for a long-term CVE strategy. In April, the Center for Ideological Warfare, which operates under the auspices of the Ministry of Defense, officially started operations designed to blunt ISIS’s ideological appeal and counter terrorist messaging by discrediting “distortions” of Islamic tenets. King Salman inaugurated the Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology (or Etidal in Arabic) in Riyadh May 21, further expanding efforts to counter terrorist messaging. President Trump attended the Center’s inauguration.
Senior Saudi officials reinvigorated outreach with visits, including to the Vatican to meet with Pope Francis September 20 and to the Grand Synagogue in Paris November 20, in an effort to cultivate an image of greater tolerance with followers of other faiths. King Salman issued a royal order on October 17 creating a religious center in Medina to scrutinize the written collections of the Prophet Muhammad’s hadiths (sayings) for content that could be interpreted as encouraging terrorism. The Saudi government expanded counter-radicalization programs through the King Abdullah Center for National Dialogue to address the rising threat to youth from recruitment efforts by groups like ISIS.
The Saudi government continued to modernize the educational curriculum, including revising textbooks to eliminate teachings that may encourage intolerance of other peoples and religions. While the Saudi government has reported progress, some textbooks continued to contain teachings that promote intolerance. Saudi Arabia has also taken steps to rein in unauthorized religious proselytization since April 2016, including restricting the authorities of the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (the so-called religious police), tightening control over Islamic charities, and restricting the ability of Saudi-based clerics to travel abroad for proselytization without first obtaining Saudi government permission. The Saudi government has also reiterated existing restrictions on the content of Saudi imams’ sermons, charitable activities, and media appearances at home.
International and Regional Cooperation: Saudi Arabia continued to encourage greater international coordination on counterterrorism issues. The Saudi government hosted international conferences on subjects ranging from countering violent extremism to cyber‑terrorism. On May 21, participants of the Arab-Islamic-American Summit released the Riyadh Declaration to demonstrate the close partnership between the leaders of the Arab and Islamic countries and the United States to counter terrorism and terrorist ideology. In December, Saudi Arabia pledged US $100 million to support the G-5 Sahel force to counter terrorism in West Africa. Saudi Arabia is a founding member of the Global Counterterrorism Forum.
Throughout the year, Saudi security professionals continued to participate in joint military and counterterrorism programs around the world and with partners inside the Kingdom. The Saudi‑led Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition (IMCTC), established in December 2015, hosted its Inaugural Meeting of the IMCTC Ministers of Defense Council on November 26 to address the ideological, financial, military, and media aspects of counterterrorism.
Overview: The risk of terrorist activity in Tunisia remained high in 2017, including the potential for terrorist attacks and the movement of arms and terrorists from neighboring countries. In 2017, al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM)-aligned Uqba bin Nafi’ Battalion and ISIS-affiliated groups continued small-scale attacks against Tunisian security personnel. Tunisian security forces improved, however, their ability to preempt terrorist activities. There were no major terrorist attacks in Tunisia in 2017. The last terrorist attack on tourists occurred on June 26, 2015.
The government has made counterterrorism a top priority, and Tunisia continued to cooperate with the international community, including the United States, to professionalize its security apparatus. U.S. security assistance to Tunisia grew in 2017, but Tunisia needs more time and international support to complete the overhaul of its military and civilian security forces.
Instability in Libya has allowed terrorist groups, including ISIS, to continue cross-border smuggling operations, although there were no reported terrorist attacks in 2017 originating from Libya. The last major attack came in March 2016 in the border town of Ben Guerdan. The disproportionate numbers of Tunisians who previously travelled to fight in Syria and Iraq – and their potential return – remains a cause for concern.
2017 Terrorist Incidents: Terrorist organizations were active in Tunisia throughout the year but there were no attacks against foreigners or civilians. There were also no large-scale attacks against Tunisian security personnel. The list below highlights the most significant terrorist incidents of 2017.
- On March 12, four motorcyclists attacked a security checkpoint in the Tunisian city of Kebili, killing one guard. Two attackers were killed in the ensuing shootout and the two remaining terrorists were captured. A Tunisian bystander assisted the police during the attack by stopping one of the terrorists from reaching his motorcycle to detonate explosives.
- On November 1, two policemen were attacked by a man wielding a knife outside Parliament. One of the officers died November 2 from his wounds. The attacker was apprehended shortly after the assault. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack.
- On November 6, three Tunisian soldiers were wounded by explosive devices planted by terrorists on Mt. Chaambi.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: There has been significant improvement in protecting tourism zones. The collaboration and cooperation between security forces, private security, and hotel staff has notably improved with training provided by international partners. As a result of significant improvements in soft target, aviation and maritime security, the United Kingdom and other European governments removed their travel restrictions for Tunisia. In addition, the return of cruise ship tourism and increasing volume at major tourist sites are preliminary indications of the successful application of proactive preventative measures throughout Tunisia.
Border security remained a priority, and interdiction and border security capabilities have improved as a result of international support through training and equipping of Tunisian border forces. Tunisia has received support from Germany and the United States to install electronic surveillance equipment to augment Tunisian-built berms along its border with Libya.
The government’s counterterrorism efforts have expanded considerably in the last year, with successful weapons seizures, arrests, and operations against armed groups throughout the country. Significant law enforcement actions and arrests included:
- On April 30, Tunisian security forces killed Algerian terrorist Abu Sufian al-Sufi during an operation in Sidi Bouzid.
- On May 31, weapons and equipment were seized in a terrorist camp during a military operation on Mount Sammama in Kasserine governorate. The armed forces seized a Kalashnikov, 90 cartridges, equipment to manufacture explosives, and six landmines.
- On November 28, Tunisian military units engaged a group of terrorists in the Kasserine Mountains, killing terrorist Yahya Argoubi, alias Abi Talha, whom the Ministry of the Interior described as one of the most wanted terrorists in Tunisia.
Tunisian security personnel continued to participate in the Department of State’s Antiterrorism Assistance (ATA) program and additional training funded through the Department of State’s Counterterrorism Partnerships Fund (CTPF). Ministry of Interior personnel received ATA/CTPF training in the areas of tactical crisis response, counterterrorism investigations, protection of soft targets, the mitigation of improvised explosive devices and other explosive ordnance disposal threats, and command and control. Primary intervention operational units were granted tactical and enabling equipment. Department of State programs supported improved quality and access to justice, training for and implementation of new criminal codes, improved prison functionality, and other training and assistance for the Ministry of Justice. In close collaboration with the MOI, the Department of State is implementing a US $12 million new police academy modernization project that includes curriculum development. U.S. programs also provided the Ministries of Interior and Justice with armored vehicles, ambulances, surveillance cameras, and other equipment to enhance internal and border security. The Tunisian Armed Forces consider counterterrorism and border security their principal mission, and they 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 (FATF)-style regional body, and the country’s Tunisian Financial Analysis Committee intelligence unit is a member of the Egmont Group. While Tunisia has endeavored to implement anti-money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) mechanisms, FATF categorized the country as having strategic deficiencies in November. Tunisia developed an action plan to address these gaps. It included: (1) implementing risk-based supervision of the financial sector and integrating designated non-financial businesses and professions into the AML/CFT regime; (2) maintaining comprehensive commercial registries and strengthening penalties for transparency violations; (3) increasing the efficiency with which CTAF processes suspicious transaction reports ; (4) establishing a terrorism-related targeted financial sanctions regime; and (5) establishing WMD‑related targeted financial sanctions. For further information on money laundering and financial crimes, see the 2018 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), Volume II, Money Laundering and Financial Crimes.
Countering Violent Extremism (CVE): Tunisia made a concerted effort to improve socioeconomic conditions in the country through economic development and education programs to prevent conditions that terrorists can exploit for recruitment. 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. Tunisia is a founding member of the Strong Cities Network.
International and Regional Cooperation: Tunisia participates in multinational and regional efforts to counter terrorism, such as those at the United Nations, the Arab League, the Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF), and the African Union. It is a founding member of the GCTF‑inspired International Institute for Justice and the Rule of Law (IIJ), and it participated in numerous IIJ trainings and workshops focused on improving criminal justice actors’ capacity to prevent and address terrorism-related crimes. In December, Tunisia co-sponsored UN Security Council resolution 2396 on returning and relocating foreign terrorist fighters.
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 terrorist threats. Tunisia is also part of the Security Governance Initiative. Tunisian authorities continued their coordination on border security with Algerian counterparts.
Overview: The United Arab Emirates (UAE) did not experience any terrorist attacks in 2017. The UAE government continued to prosecute numerous individuals for terrorism-related offenses.
In line with previous years, the UAE government continued its collaboration with U.S. law enforcement on counterterrorism cases; its membership in the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS; and support for counter messaging and countering violent extremism platforms, such as the Sawab and Hedayah Centers, respectively. The UAE government remained co-chair of the Coalition Communications working group along with the United States and the United Kingdom (UK).
The government’s security apparatus continued monitoring suspected terrorists in the UAE and foiled potential terrorist attacks within its borders. UAE customs, police, and other security agencies improved border security and worked together with financial authorities to counter terrorist finance. UAE government officials worked closely with their U.S. law enforcement counterparts to increase the UAE’s counterterrorism capabilities.
The UAE continued to deploy forces in Yemen to counter al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and ISIS, and support local forces in counterterrorism operations.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: In 2017, the UAE continued to prosecute numerous individuals in terrorism-related cases using existing legislation. There were no changes to counterterrorism legislation in the calendar year. International human rights non‑governmental organizations and activists have asserted the UAE uses its counterterrorism and cyber-crime laws as cover to pursue cases against peaceful political dissidents and activists.
The State Security Directorate (SSD) in Abu Dhabi and Dubai State Security (DSS) remained primarily responsible for counterterrorism law enforcement efforts. Local, emirate-level police forces, especially Abu Dhabi Police and Dubai Police, were frequently the first responders in such cases and often provided technical assistance to SSD and DSS, respectively. Overall, the UAE security apparatus demonstrated capability in investigations, crisis response, and border security, and forces were trained and equipped to detect, deter, and respond to terrorist incidents.
According to press reports, the Court of Appeal examined more than a dozen new terrorism‑related cases in 2017 and the Federal Appeal Court’s State Security Court retried a number of high-profile cases from 2016. The Federal Supreme Court upheld life sentence verdicts issued by the lower Court for two Emiratis convicted of terrorism-related activities in two separate cases, one of which involved the targeting of a U.S. citizen. Most cases involved defendants accused of promoting or affiliating with UAE-designated terrorist organizations, including ISIS, AQAP, al-Nusrah Front, Hizballah, and the Muslim Brotherhood.
As in previous years, the Government of the UAE worked closely with the United States, through the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), to improve its border security posture. Law enforcement information sharing between Abu Dhabi Police’s Criminal Investigations Division and DHS Homeland Security Investigations helped counter transnational criminal organizations and terrorist groups. UAE points of entry used an internal name-based watchlist system 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. Some human rights organizations claimed that activists, academics, and journalists who had written critically about UAE policy were included on such lists and barred from entry. INTERPOL and Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) watchlists were 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, a Financial Action Task Force-style regional body. The UAE’s financial intelligence unit, the Anti-Money Laundering and Suspicious Cases Unit, is a member of the Egmont Group. The UAE also participates in the Coalition’s Counter-ISIS Finance Group.
The UAE remained a regional and global financial and transportation hub, and terrorist organizations exploited it to send and receive financial support. Operational capability constraints and political considerations sometimes prevented the government from immediately freezing and confiscating terrorist assets absent multilateral assistance. The UAE requires financial institutions and designated non-financial businesses and professions to review and implement the UN Security Council ISIL (Da’esh) and al-Qa’ida sanctions regime on a continuous basis.
Except for free trade zones (FTZs) specifically established for financial activities, which were well-regulated, the UAE’s numerous FTZs varied in their compliance with and supervision of anti-money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism (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 a significant concern.
The UAE continued its efforts to enhance its regulatory measures to strengthen its domestic AML/CFT regime and was increasingly willing and able to implement its laws and regulations. In May, the UAE joined the United States and other GCC countries to create the Terrorist Financing Targeting Center in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. In October, the UAE jointly designated several individuals and entities associated with AQAP and ISIS-Yemen in coordination with other TFTC members.
Countering Violent Extremism (CVE): The UAE government continued to support Hedayah, the International Center of Excellence for Countering Violent Extremism, and the Sawab Center, a collaborative partnership with the United States to amplify credible voices to counter terrorist messaging online. The government separately worked to amplify credible alternative narratives by supporting the annual Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies and the Muslim Council of Elders. Through the General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowments, the government continued to regulate all mosque sermons and religious publications to “instill the principle of moderation in Islam.” In September, the UAE began implementing compulsory moral education classes for public and private school students in all grades, in an effort to promote religious tolerance and counter violent tendencies in youth.
Prominent UAE officials and religious leaders continued to publicly criticize and highlight the dangers of terrorist narratives. In addition, in an October cabinet reshuffle, the position of Minister of State for Tolerance was elevated to become Minister of Tolerance. Through this ministry, the government continued to promote interfaith engagement and dialogue.
International and Regional Cooperation: The UAE was a vocal and active participant in counterterrorism efforts at both the regional and international levels. The UAE signed a memorandum of understanding with the European Union Parliament expressing the country’s commitment to combat terrorism around the world. It also continued to play a role in global counterterrorism efforts through its training of Somali forces and deployment in Yemen, to counter terrorist organizations such as al-Shabaab, AQAP, and ISIS-Yemen. In December, the UAE co-sponsored UN Security Council resolution 2396 on returning and relocating foreign terrorist fighters. The UAE is also a founding member of the Global Counterterrorism Forum, and until September, was co-chair with the UK of its Countering Violent Extremism working group.
Overview: Throughout 2017, al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and ISIS-Yemen have continued to exploit the political and security vacuum created by the ongoing conflict between the Yemeni government under President Abd Rabu Mansour Hadi and Houthi-forces. A Saudi-led coalition of 10 member states continued its air campaign to restore the legitimacy of the Republic of Yemen Government (ROYG) that started in March 2015. The ROYG, in partnership with the Saudi-led Coalition, controlled the majority of Yemeni territory at the end of 2017, including the population centers of Aden, Mukalla, Ta’izz, and Al Ghaydah. Houthi forces controlled the capital of Sana’a. AQAP’s area of influence has increased since the onset of the civil war.
The ROYG under President Hadi cooperated with the U.S. government on counterterrorism efforts. However, because of the instability and violence in Yemen, the ROYG cannot effectively enforce counterterrorism measures. A large security vacuum persists, which gives AQAP and ISIS-Yemen more room to operate. Counterterrorism gains in 2017 removed several key leaders and decreased AQAP’s freedom of movement, but AQAP and ISIS-Yemen continue to carry out terrorist attacks throughout government-held territory. In southern Yemen, UAE forces continued to play a vital role in counterterrorism efforts.
ISIS-Yemen remained considerably smaller in size and influence compared to AQAP, but remained operationally active. ISIS-Yemen attacks increased in late 2017, exploiting the tenuous security environment in Aden. The United States conducted successful airstrikes against two ISIS-Yemen training camps – its first against the group – in October 2017.
2017 Terrorist Incidents: AQAP and ISIS-Yemen terrorists carried out hundreds of attacks throughout Yemen in 2017. Methods included suicide bombers, vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs), ambushes, kidnappings, and targeted assassinations. The following list details only a small fraction of the incidents that occurred:
- On March 27, government forces killed an AQAP suicide bomber driving a VBIED directed at a local government compound in al-Houta, southern Yemen. After neutralizing the VBIED, security forces clashed with militants who were dressed in military uniforms and armed with automatic weapons. Six security personnel and five attackers died in the fighting.
- On November 5, ISIS-Yemen launched an attack on the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) building in the Khormaksar district of Aden. An ISIS militant detonated a VBIED outside the building, followed by armed men storming the facility. The car bomb and ensuing clashes killed at least 15 people, mostly Yemeni security personnel.
- On November 14, ISIS-Yemen detonated a car bomb in a suicide mission targeting forces in Aden, Sheikh Othman district, killing at least six people and causing scores of injuries. ISIS-Yemen claimed responsibility for the attack, naming the suicide bomber as Abu Hagar al-Adani, a Yemeni national.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: There have been no significant changes in legislation, law enforcement, or border security in Yemen since 2016. Yemen does not have comprehensive counterterrorism legislation and no progress was made due to the state of unrest and the fact that most of Yemen’s government remains in exile outside of Yemen. Due to a lack of resources and organization, police forces throughout the country struggle to exert authority.
Draft counterterrorism legislation has been pending in the parliament since 2008. This legislation has remained at a standstill due to the lack of a legitimate parliament. 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. There have been no clear moves to implement legal structures compliant with UN Security Council resolution (UNSCR) 2178 (2014), relating to countering foreign terrorists, due to the ongoing conflict. There are limited commercial flights operating out of airports in Yemen and the government did not have the capacity or resources to implement UNSCR 2309 mandates on aviation security.
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, but the committee was unable to finalize its task due to developments in the country. Therefore, Yemen’s National Counterterrorism Strategy had not been officially adopted or implemented by the end of 2017.
Yemen employs the U.S.-provided Personal Identification Secure Comparison and Evaluation System (PISCES) in an effort to secure borders and identify fraudulent travel documents. In consultation with the ROYG, the United States relaunched in December 2017 bilateral discussions to upgrade and expand PISCES in ROYG-controlled areas. In spite of the conflict, Yemen has been able to maintain traveler screening at a limited number of points of entry.
In past years, the Yemeni government’s coast guard played a critical role in interdicting 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. The central southern coast remains highly vulnerable to maritime smuggling of weapons, materials, and goods used to sustain AQAP and other terrorist activities. During 2017, the United States planned multiple training courses for coast guard personnel. These courses, funded by the State Department’s Export Control and Related Border Security (EXBS) Program, provided hands-on training to conduct illicit weapons interdiction operations at sea and in port, focusing on conventional weapons, explosives, ammunition, MANPADS, ballistic missile components, and WMD materials. U.S. partners provided training and technical assistance in a number of counterterrorism-related areas, although the conflict hampered in-country efforts in 2017.
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. These measures are the first coordinated effort under the Terrorist Financing Targeting Center (TFTC), co-chaired by the U.S. and Saudi Arabia. Due to a lack of judicial capacity and territorial control, the Yemeni government is unable to unilaterally implement UN Security Council resolutions related to terrorist financing. After Houthi forces occupied the Sana’a-based Central Bank of Yemen in 2015, the government moved the bank’s headquarters to Aden in September 2016.
Countering Violent Extremism (CVE): Due to the conflict in Yemen, the ROYG had no CVE initiatives. Before hostilities escalated in 2014, the government-developed Comprehensive National Counterterrorism Strategy included social measures to raise awareness of the causes and consequences of terrorism and a planned de-radicalization center based on the Mohammed bin Nayef Counseling and Care Center. As noted previously, the Houthi coup halted the implementation of these measures.
International and Regional Cooperation: The ROYG continued to cooperate with and be advised by the Gulf Cooperation Council, the United States, and other donor countries as it focused on working towards a peaceful solution to the conflict. Despite the challenges, the ROYG remained an international partner as it worked to reestablish rule of law within the territory it holds. Along with the United States and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Yemen developed the Yemen Security Working Group in 2017. The working group includes high-level military and diplomatic representatives from the three member states, which have developed several cooperative capacity-building initiatives for Yemeni military and security forces, particularly regarding border security and border management. Yemen also belongs to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the Arab League.