Jihadist Groups Gain in Turmoil Across Middle East

 Intensifying sectarian and clan violence has presented new opportunities for jihadist groups across the Middle East and raised concerns among American intelligence and counterterrorism officials that militants aligned with Al Qaeda could establish a base in Syria capable of threatening Israel and Europe. The new signs of an energized but fragmented jihadist threat, stretching from Mali and Libya in the west to Yemen in the east, have complicated the narrative of a weakened Al Qaeda that President Obama offered in May in a landmark speech heralding the end of the war on terrorism. The leaders of the Senate and House intelligence committees, Senator Dianne Feinstein of California and Representative Mike Rogers of Michigan, raised warnings in an interview on CNN on Sunday when they said that Americans were “not safer” from terrorist attacks than in 2011. The concerns are based in part on messages relayed this year […]

Young Palestinian Refugees Join Jihadists Fighting in Syria

21 Nov 2013   Instability, Syria

Inside Lebanon’s largest Palestinian refugee camp, disaffected and unemployed youth are increasingly joining radical Islamist groups fighting in Syria, saying it gives their lives a sense of purpose. The growing hold of the jihadists is evident on the street at the camp’s entrance, lined with flags of al Qaeda-linked groups that operate in Lebanon or Syria. Homes on Tawareq Street are pockmarked by bullets and rocket-propelled grenades—scars of recent fighting between Islamist militants and the Lebanese army. The camp’s ties to jihadist groups fighting in Syria came into sharp relief on Tuesday. The head of the group that claimed responsibility for the bombing that killed 25 people outside Iran’s Embassy in Beirut lived in the camp for a time and the brigade operated openly there. The group linked the bombing to the conflict in Syria. The youth of Ain el-Hilweh, Lebanon’s most radicalized camp, have largely […]

Hezbollah calls for calm after Iranian embassy bombing

21 Nov 2013   Instability, Lebanon

A Hezbollah leader appealed for calm on Wednesday and an easing of sectarian tensions in Lebanon, a day after twin suicide bombings struck the Iranian embassy in Beirut. “The solution to this confrontation begins politically,” the Shi’ite Muslim group’s deputy leader, Sheikh Naim Qassem, said on Lebanese radio, calling for unity. “Then there are security and military steps by the (Lebanese) authorities … in addition to attempts to calm the arena and reduce the transmission of sectarian poisons.” He did not specify what security and military steps were needed. The remarks by Qassem, the most senior Hezbollah official to speak publicly about Tuesday’s bombings, suggested a restrained response from Hezbollah, which is funded by Iran and has sent fighters to Syria to support President Bashar al-Assad. Hezbollah’s military role in Syria has helped to inflame sectarian tension there and in Lebanon. Many Lebanese Sunnis back the […]

Wave of attacks in Iraqi capital kills at least 24

20 Nov 2013   Instability, Iraq

BAGHDAD (AP) — A wave of attacks, mostly by car bombs, hit mainly Shiite and commercial areas of Baghdad on Wednesday morning, killing at least 24 people and wounding 87, Iraqi officials said. The bombings were part of a surge in violence that has rocked Iraq over the past months as insurgents seek to thwart the Shiite-led government’s efforts to stabilize the country. Five of Wednesday’s attacks were carried out by parked car bombs while at least one was carried out by a remotely detonated bomb, police officials said. The deadliest attack was in the central Sadria neighborhood, where a parked car bomb went off at an outdoor market, killing five shoppers and wounding 15, they said. Other attacks took place in Hurriyah, Shaab, Tobchi, Karrada, Azamiyah and Amil neighborhoods. Medical officials confirmed the causality figures. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to […]

Beirut Bombs Strike at Iran as Assad’s Ally

BEIRUT, Lebanon — A double bombing struck the Iranian Embassy compound in Beirut on Tuesday, in the deadliest assault on Iran’s interests since it emerged as the most forceful backer of the Syrian government against an armed insurgency. The frontal attack struck a symbol of the country’s powerful influence in Lebanon and neighboring Syria. The Abdullah Azzam Brigades, an offshoot of Al Qaeda that operates in Lebanon, claimed responsibility for the bombings, which killed at least 23 people, including an Iranian diplomat. Syria, Iran and Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant organization, pointed fingers at Israel and Saudi Arabia, and officials said it was unclear who had carried out the attack. Regardless, it was quickly seen as retaliation against Iran and Hezbollah, Iran’s ally, for supporting the Syrian government. The double bombing highlighted the risks and costs that Iran faces over Syria, which some analysts have called Iran’s Vietnam. Others say […]

Syrian troops capture key town near Lebanon border

Syrian government troops captured a key town near the Lebanese border from rebels on Tuesday, days after launching a broad offensive in the mountainous western region, state media, activists and the army said. The attack on Qara began Friday morning in what appeared to be an operation aimed at cutting off rebel supply lines to Lebanon. The Qara route is particularly important to rebels entrenched in suburbs around Damascus, and also lies on the main north-south highway linking the capital to government strongholds along the Mediterranean coast. State TV reported troops were “in full control,” while the army said in a statement it had captured the town Tuesday morning and that “large numbers of terrorists who took positions in the city were wiped out.” The Syrian government refers to all armed opposition fighters as terrorists. “This achievement aims to strengthen control of supply […]

Car bomb attack kills 10 Egyptian soldiers in Sinai

20 Nov 2013   Egypt, Instability

Ten Egyptian soldiers were killed and 35 wounded in a car bomb attack near the North Sinai city of El-Arish on Wednesday, a security official said. The attack was one of the deadliest in the Sinai Peninsula, which is near Israel and the Palestinian-run Gaza Strip, since al Qaeda-inspired militants began stepping up assaults following the army’s ouster of Islamist President Mohamed Mursi in July. The soldiers were traveling in a convoy on the road to the Rafah border crossing with Gaza. There was no immediate claim of responsibility. A Sinai-based militant group, Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, said it assassinated a high-ranking security officer in Cairo on Sunday, according to a statement posted on a militant Islamist website. That group has also said it was behind a failed suicide attack on Egypt’s interior minister in September. In a separate incident on Wednesday, three people were wounded […]

Russia invites Syrian opposition to Moscow for talks: FM

19 Nov 2013   Instability, Russia, Syria

MOSCOW, Nov. 18 (Xinhua) — Russia has invited Syrian opposition groups to travel to Moscow for talks aimed at bridging their differences on the planned Geneva peace conference, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Monday. Leaders of the Istanbul-based Syrian National Coalition (SNC) ” did not refuse to come to Moscow, and they are studying our proposal,” Lavrov told a news briefing. He confirmed that Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov held talks with the SNC leaders in Istanbul last week. Russia’s mediation is to help the Syrian opposition to form a single delegation to the talks, which the United States and Russia are trying to convene in Geneva by the end of the year, Lavrov said. The proposed meeting is to “consolidate positive trends,” which included negotiations which have begun between the SNC, one of Kurdish groups and the so-called “internal opposition,” about finding common approaches to the peace […]

Iraq executes 12 ‘terror’ convicts, says judicial official

19 Nov 2013   Instability, Iraq

BAGHDAD, Nov 18 — Iraqi authorities have executed 12 men convicted of crimes related to “terrorism”, a senior judicial official said today, amid widespread international condemnation against Baghdad’s use of the death penalty. “Yesterday (Sunday), we executed 12 convicts,” the official told AFP on condition of anonymity. “All of them were Iraqi men accused of terrorism.” The latest executions bring the number of people who have been put to death in Iraq this year to at least 144, compared to 129 executions in all of 2012, according to an AFP tally based on reports from the justice ministry and officials. Among them were 42 convicts […]

Lebanon blasts near Iran’s embassy in Beirut

19 Nov 2013   Instability, Iran, Lebanon

 Seven people have been reported killed as explosions struck near the Iranian embassy in the Lebanese capital Beirut. Conflicting reports say the blasts could have come from rockets or a car bomb. Several buildings were damaged, eyewitnesses said. Iran is a major backer of the Lebanaese Shia militant group Hezbollah, which has sent fighters to Syria to back the government of Bashar al-Assad. The conflict in Syria has worsened sectarian tensions in Lebanon. The area around the Iranian embassy, in south Beirut, is considered a Hezbollah stronghold. On 15 August, 16 people were killed in a blast in south Beirut. Hezbollah fighters were instrumental in a strategic victory by Syrian government forces in Qusair, close to the border with Lebanon, in early June.

Sectarian fury could threaten Iraq’s push for record oil output

18 Nov 2013   Instability, Iraq

BASRA, Iraq, Nov. 17 (UPI) — The Iraqi government is seeking to restore calm in the southern province of Basra, the country’s main oil production center, after hundreds of foreign oilmen were hastily evacuated amid violent protests by Iraqi oil workers. The evacuation, after rioters wrecked a camp used by Houston-based Schlumberger Inc., the world’s largest oilfield services company, came amid a worsening surge of sectarian warfare across Iraq that threatens to undermine a drive by the government to boost oil production to record levels and challenge Saudi Arabia as the world’s leading oil power. Until recently, the bloodletting, largely the work of Sunni extremists of al-Qaida against Iraq’s Shiite majority, had not seriously threatened the Basra oil fields, which produce around two-thirds of Iraq’s output. But in the last few weeks the Shiites around Basra, Iraq’s second largest city, have become targets, and any major escalation could impact […]

Violence in Libya leaves 27 dead

16 Nov 2013   Instability, Libya

Libyan militiamen opened fire on a crowd in southern Tripoli Militiamen opened fire on largely peaceful protesters in the Libyan capital on Friday, killing 27 people and leaving 235 injured in the latest outbreak of violence by armed groups claiming to have fought against Muammer Gaddafi’s deposed regime. Footage aired on television showed panicked men dragging others drenched in blood and running through streets as heavy gunfire raged. Gunfire could be heard throughout the city into the late evening, according to a witness. Several hospitals reported being overwhelmed with injured and called out for blood donations. State television reported that army units and military police have been ordered to take positions between the protesters and the militia, a unit from Misurata that […]

Libya Protest Turns Deadly as Militias Open Fire

16 Nov 2013   Instability, Libya

CAIRO — Dozens of people were killed in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, on Friday after militiamen opened fire on unarmed protesters, setting off some of the worst violence in the capital since the revolt against Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi almost three years ago. The bloodshed at the protest on Friday afternoon quickly devolved into clashes involving armed citizens and rival militias, witnesses said. At hospitals, bodies arrived mangled by heavy-weapons fire. Air force jets flew sorties over the city, as pickup trucks carrying reinforcements of fighters raced to the clashes. The protest that led to the violence was part of a rising tide of citizen anger against Libya’s multitude of militias, made up of thousands of men who fought Colonel Qaddafi’s forces and never laid down their arms. The militias have fed Libya’s chronic insecurity, fighting among themselves while exerting control over vital installations and even resources like oil. Fighters […]