Chapter 2 -- Country Reports: Middle East and North Africa Overview
“Terrorism kills civilians, journalists, actors, thinkers, and professionals; it attacks universities, marketplaces, and libraries; it blows up mosques and churches and destroys the infrastructure of State institutions. We consider terrorism an extension of the fallen dictatorship, whether it may vary in its outside form or by the gangs that carry it out. Terrorism aims at aborting the political process, and igniting sectarian dissension as a prelude to hijack Iraq back into the era of tyranny, oppression, and backwardness.”
–Mr. Nuri Kamal Al-Maliki, Prime Minister of Iraq
Statement, 62nd UN General Assembly, New York
September 26, 2007
Iraq remained at the center of the War on Terror battling al-Qa’ida in Iraq (AQI) and affiliated terrorist organizations, insurgent groups fighting against Coalition Forces (CF), militias and death squads engaged in sectarian as well as intra-communal violence, and criminal organizations. The Iraqi government, in coordination with the Coalition, made significant progress in combating AQI and affiliated terrorist organizations. There was a notable reduction in the number of security incidents throughout much of Iraq, including a decrease in civilian casualties, enemy attacks, and improvised explosive devices (IED) attacks in the last quarter of the year. Terrorist organizations and insurgent groups continued their attacks on Coalition and Iraqi security forces using IEDs, vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs), and suicide bombers. The Iraqi government continued to emphasize national reconciliation and made progress in passing key pieces of reconciliation-related legislation. There were practical steps taken that helped to advance reconciliation at the provincial and local level. The United States continued its focused efforts to mitigate the threat posed by foreign fighters in Iraq. State sponsors of terrorism, Iran and Syria, continued to play destabilizing roles in the region. (See Chapter 3, State Sponsors of Terrorism.)
While the number and lethality of individual terrorist attacks in Israel declined in comparison to 2006, Israel nevertheless continued to suffer from terrorist threats emanating from the West Bank and Gaza, and was particularly vulnerable to rocket and mortar attacks launched against Israeli targets from inside Gaza. While there was an overall decrease in the number of successfully perpetrated terrorist attacks in comparison to previous years, Israeli security officials maintained that the decrease was not for lack of terrorists’ efforts, but because the security services were able to keep terrorist planners and operators off balance and foil acts before they were carried out. Throughout the year, Israel's security services publicly reported several foiled attempts.
In Lebanon, a campaign of domestic political violence continued. Most notable were the June 13, September 19, and December 12 car bombing assassinations of MP Walid Eido, MP Antoine Ghanem, and General Francois Hajj, respectively. Both MPs were part of the pro-government March 14 coalition. Several political allies of the two MPs charged that the Syrian government was responsible for the assassinations, which Syria strongly denied. These acts, the latest in a series of assassinations and attempted assassinations over the last three years, seemed designed to intimidate the pro-government forces and eliminate, through the process of killing MPs, their numerical majority in parliament.
There were several high profile attacks in Algiers, including the April 11 bombing of the Prime Minister’s office and the December 11 near simultaneous bombing of the Constitutional Council and the UN headquarters in Algeria. These attacks underlined the substantial shifts in strategy made by al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) towards mass-casualty attacks employing suicide tactics and targeting Western interests. AQIM claimed responsibility for both attacks and touted them as major successes. In the latter case, AQIM inaccurately equated breaching the security in the heretofore highly protected Hydra neighborhood of Algiers with breaching the Green Zone in Baghdad.
Saudi Arabia suffered two high-profile terrorist incidents: the shooting of four French citizens and the violent murder of a high-ranking Saudi colonel. Saudi security forces managed to capture or kill most of the assailants involved in the two incidents and successive government roundups resulted in hundreds of arrests that likely disrupted terrorist cells planning to carry out attacks in the Kingdom.
A series of suicide bombing attacks shattered the relative lull in terrorist violence that had prevailed in Morocco since the 2003 Casablanca bombings. The attacks underscored that Morocco’s greatest terrorist threat stems from numerous small “grassroots” Salafi Jihadist groups. The main external terrorism threat to Morocco was AQIM and its demonstrated willingness to train inexperienced Moroccan extremists. Morocco adopted a comprehensive counterterrorism strategy that emphasized vigilant security measures, counter-radicalization policies, and strong international cooperation. In the wake of the December AQIM double bombing in Algiers, King Mohamed VI summed up Moroccan cognizance of the AQIM threat in a condolence message, stating that “Algeria’s security is linked to the security of the region.”
On July 2 in Yemen, Abdu Mohamad Sad Ahmad Reheqa drove a suicide vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (SVBIED) into a group of western tourists in Marib, killing himself and ten others. Three days later, U.S.-trained Yemeni security forces killed the suspected leader of the SVBIED bombing Ahmed Basyouni Dwedar, an Egyptian wanted in Egypt. On August 8 and 13, Yemeni security forces raided two houses, arresting 17 and killing four AQ-affiliated suspects while suffering one casualty.
Most governments in the region cooperated with the United States in counterterrorist activities and undertook efforts to strengthen their capabilities to fight the War on Terror. These efforts included participation in USG-sponsored antiterrorism assistance (ATA) programs and taking steps to bolster banking and legal regimes to combat terrorist financing. Many countries continued to provide some form of assistance to Coalition efforts to bring peace and stability to Iraq and Afghanistan.
The security situation in Algeria was marked by several high profile terrorist attacks throughout the country, an evolution of terror tactics and ongoing low-level terrorist activities in the countryside. Beginning in April, several high profile attacks were staged throughout Algeria, including the December 11 near simultaneous bombing of the Constitutional Council and the UN headquarters in Algiers. This attack against a Western hard target underlined the substantial shift in strategy by al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), who claimed responsibility for the attack and touted it as a major success. Previously, AQIM’s predecessor, the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), had preferred to target Algerian government interests and had been more averse to suicide attacks and civilian casualties. Although Algerian government interests remained the primary focus of AQIM, this attack confirmed that foreigners were included as targets.
Two events helped fuel terrorism concerns in Algeria: the September 2006 merger of elements of the GSPC with AQ to form AQIM, and the conclusion of the amnesty period for Algeria's Charter for Peace and National Reconciliation in August 2006. National Reconciliation remained an open wound for much of the Algerian population, which is divided over amnesty and re-integration on the one hand and a more aggressive, unforgiving approach to terrorism on the other. Although the Charter has officially expired, its terms may still be applied on a case by case basis at the exclusive discretion of the Presidency.
Following the AQ September 11, 2006, announcement of affiliation, AQIM began to make more threats against what it termed "crusading" westerners, particularly American and French citizens, although Russians have been targeted as well. Even before its affiliation with AQ, the GSPC was an organization whose regional ties were expanding. AQIM support cells have been discovered and dismantled in Spain, Italy, Morocco, Mauritania, and Mali, and it maintained training camps in northern Mali.
The year was punctuated with over half a dozen high profile terrorist attacks that included:
- On February 13, AQIM claimed responsibility for car bombings in the provinces of Tizi Ouzou and Boumerdes that claimed six lives and injured many.
- On April 11, AQIM conducted its trademark attack against multiple targets in the city of Algiers. The terrorists targeted government offices and a police station with suicide car bombs.
- On September 6, the first suicide vest attack targeted Algerian president Abdelaziz Bouteflika in Batna, 200 miles east of Algiers.
- On September 8, a suicide bomber attacked the coast guard barracks in Dellys.
- In December, a roadside bomb attack again targeted a Russian company bus west of Algiers.
- The December 11 double suicide bombing of the Algerian Constitutional Council building and UN Headquarters in Algiers.
The most alarming trend was the evolution of tactics to include the use of suicide bombers to conduct attacks in Algeria. We have witnessed a shift in Algeria to tactics that have been successfully employed by insurgents and terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan. The use of suicide car bombs, suicide vests, and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) by Algerian terrorists indicated a greater level of cooperation and training by AQIM. Of greater concern was the degree that AQIM consistently changed its profile throughout the year. For example, the August 8 suicide bomber was a 15-year-old boy, the youngest suicide bomber in the history of Algeria. Meanwhile the suicide bomber who struck UN Headquarters on December 11 was a 64-year-old man, in the advanced stages of cancer, potentially the oldest. The proliferation of tactics used in Iraq has had a profound effect on the level of organization and sophistication employed by the terrorists in Algeria. The main sources of funding for AQIM remained kidnapping for ransom, muggings, and the narcotics trade in Southern Algeria/Northern Mali. Individual cells in Europe also provided support through small scale funding.
Algerian security services expressed a concern about AQIM using propaganda based on the call to fight in Iraq as a hook to recruit young people, many of whom never made it to Iraq but were redirected towards joining local groups. In previous years, the AQIM propaganda videos originating in Algeria were of amateur quality and poorly produced. This has changed dramatically. It was evident that AQIM has placed a greater emphasis on improving the quality of the videos, and that these videos and communiqués were orchestrated to attract Algerian youth to the AQIM “cause.” Several videos posted on the Internet, such as the series “Shadows of the Sword” and “Apostate Hell,” showed operations conducted against Algerian military and security targets that included preparations for the attacks and pre-briefings with the commanders that led the attacks. The ability to conduct an attack and claim responsibility via communiqué within hours demonstrated the importance AQIM placed in transmitting their message in an attempt to win the media war.
It was estimated that the Algerian security services killed and arrested upwards of 1100 terrorists, compared to the estimated combined killed and arrested figure of about 650 for 2006. Notable successes were the surrender of GSPC founder Hassan Hattab in late September and the September 6 killing of AQIM central zone emir Zohair Harek. On September 10, Harek’s deputy Fateh Bouderbala was arrested, effectively removing the top leadership of the central zone. The counterterrorism successes of the Algerian services, combined with the public's continued rejection of terrorists, have possibly influenced AQIM’s shift in tactics to the use of suicide bombers. AQIM was believed to have resorted to suicide attacks as a result of its operational weakness, and to demonstrate its AQ link by adopting the organization’s trademark modus operandi. Suicide attacks were cheap and attracted media attention. The head of the Algerian External Intelligence Service confirmed that AQIM’s membership was becoming more international. However, the service also noted that the recruitment of foreigners had been limited thus far as a result of the joint efforts of neighboring states.
AQIM, thanks in part to high unemployment among Algerian youth, was partially successful in replenishing its numbers after the arrests, surrenders, and deaths of over 1,000 terrorists. Those remaining appeared to be more hard-line and resistant to the government's amnesty offer. Despite the upsurge of AQIM activity toward the end of the year, overall, the government had greatly improved security from the situation of the late 1990s. That said, the Algerian military and security forces were often perceived as slow to adapt to AQIM’s changing tactics and have shown a resistance to accepting that they now face a better organized international threat in the form of AQIM. The Algerian security services and military remained capable of handling a prolonged effort against internal terrorist threats and were a reliable counterterrorism partner.
The Government of Bahrain actively monitored terrorist suspects, but domestic legal constraints at times hampered its ability to detain and prosecute suspects. Using the new 2006 counterterrorism law1, security forces monitored the travels and activities of a Bahraini citizen and arrested him on August 8. His arrest and the subsequent investigation led to the arrest of a number of other men. Prosecutors charged each with membership in a terrorist organization, undergoing terrorist training, facilitating the travel of others abroad to receive terrorist training, and financing terrorism. Their trial began on October 23 and had not concluded at year’s end.
Bahrain continued to host the Middle East and North Africa Financial Action Task Force (MENA FATF) secretariat. The MENA FATF concluded Bahrain's mutual evaluation in November 2006 and published it in early 2007.
There were no successful terrorist attacks in Egypt, due mainly to the vigilance and effectiveness of Egypt's security services. The Egyptian government's active opposition to terrorism, and effective intelligence and security services, made Egypt an unattractive locale for terror groups. Nonetheless, Egypt's northern Sinai region remained a haven for smuggling weapons, explosives, funds, and people between Egypt, Gaza, and Israel. Criminal networks that smuggle weapons and other contraband through the Sinai into Israel and Gaza may be associated with or used by terrorist groups in the region. The apparent radicalization of some Sinai Bedouin may be linked in part to these smuggling networks and to the Bedouin’s long-standing complaints of discriminatory and heavy-handed treatment by the central government.
In the past four years, Egypt has tightened its terror finance regulations in keeping with relevant UN Security Council Resolutions. Egypt passed anti-money laundering legislation in 2002, established a financial intelligence unit in 2003, and ratified the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism. The Government of Egypt kept open, regular lines of communication with U.S. officials concerning terrorist finance information. Egypt maintained its strengthened airport security measures and security for the Suez Canal, and continued to institute more stringent port security measures.
The Egyptian judicial system does not allow plea bargaining, and terrorists have historically been prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Terrorism defendants may be tried in military tribunals or emergency courts.
Many of the Egyptian president's far-reaching powers in the realm of counterterrorism come from a decades-old Emergency Law, which was renewed by Parliament for two years in 2006. President Mubarak has pledged to lift the Emergency Law by June 2008 and has called for new antiterrorism legislation to replace the Emergency Law, noting that Egypt should follow the example of other countries that have recently passed comprehensive laws to combat terrorism. Such legislation was being drafted by a governmental interagency committee at year’s end.
The United States hosted the third session of the United States-Egypt Counterterrorism Joint Working Group.
The imprisoned former leader of Egyptian Islamic Jihad, Sayid Imam al-Sharif, issued a detailed "revision" of his previous ideology of violent jihad. His revised approach to jihad did not amount to a rejection of the concept, but an attempt to establish "rules of engagement" for conducting jihad, while also offering non-violent alternatives. He also denounced AQ’s agenda and verbally attacked AQ’s leaders Usama bin Ladin and Ayman al-Zawahiri.
The Iraqi government, with support from Coalition Forces, made significant progress in combating al-Qa’ida in Iraq (AQI) and affiliated terrorist organizations. There was a significant reduction in the number of security incidents throughout much of Iraq, including a decrease in civilian casualties, enemy attacks, and improvised explosive devices (IED) attacks in the last five months of the year.
Terrorist organizations and insurgent groups continued their attacks on Coalition and Iraqi security forces using IEDs, including vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs), and suicide bombers. The Iraqi government continued to emphasize national reconciliation and passed key pieces of reconciliation-related legislation. However, there was greater success taking practical steps that helped to advance reconciliation at the provincial and local level.
Coalition and Iraqi forces made their gains against AQI and like-minded extremists with much help from the grass-root engagement of Sunni and Shia tribal leaders and Concerned Local Citizens (CLC)/Sons of Iraq (SOI) groups. The Iraqi government took greater steps on both the bilateral and multilateral fronts to try to harness regional and international support against the common threat from AQI and like-minded extremists.
An improved security environment has resulted from the combined factors of Coalition troop surge and sustained presence, the declared ceasefire by Muqtada al-Sadr's Jaysh al-Mahdi militia in August, improved Iraqi Security Forces proficiency, and increasing popular support for the actions of Iraqi Forces against AQI and other extremist groups. CLC and SOI groups provided Coalition and Iraqi forces with valuable information that helped disrupt terrorist operations and expose large weapons caches. Tribal awakening movements, similar to the Anbar Awakening that emerged in western Iraq in 2006, gained momentum as both Sunni and Shia sheikhs formed alliances with the coalition against AQI and extremist groups. Ethno-sectarian related violence declined but remained a concern as Shia extremists and criminal organizations became an increasing threat to stability.
Iraqi and Coalition Forces forced AQI cells from their strongholds in western Iraq and the Baghdad area. With their bases of operations disrupted and with members detained or killed, AQI and like-minded extremist elements were forced into the eastern and northern parts of Iraq to look for more advantageous and secure operating areas. AQI has shifted its tactics from primarily Shia targets to focusing its attacks against Iraqi security forces, CLC groups, and tribal awakening movement members. Despite the improved security environment, AQI still possessed the means to launch high-profile attacks against Iraqi civilians and infrastructure.
Iraqi government officials continued to strongly condemn terrorists. On September 28, Iraq and Turkey concluded a counterterrorism agreement between its interior ministers to increase cooperation in countering the militant Kurdish separatist group, Kongra Gel/Kurdistan Workers’ Party (KGK/PKK). Following an October 7 attack by the KGK/PKK that killed 13 Turkish soldiers in Southern Turkey, Prime Minister Maliki publicly stated that the KGK/PKK was a terrorist organization and would not be tolerated in Iraq. Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) officials in northern Iraq also took concrete actions against the KGK/PKK presence there by closing off re-supply routes via additional checkpoints, increasing airport screening for KGK/PKK members, and directing the closure of KGK/PKK-affiliated offices.
The government's national reconciliation programs made incremental progress. The Iraqi Council of Representatives passed a unified pension law important to reconciliation efforts, and local working level reconciliation initiatives also successfully brought Sunni and Shia groups together to promote a message of unity. In October, Anbar and Karbala provincial government officials and tribal sheikhs met three times in two weeks to foster improved Sunni-Shia reconciliation.
Terrorism committed by illegal armed groups receiving weapons and training from Iran continued to endanger the security and stability of Iraq. Foreign terrorists from Saudi Arabia, North Africa, and other Middle Eastern countries continued to flow into Iraq, predominantly through Syria.
The Iraqi government increased its bilateral and multilateral efforts to garner regional and international support against the common threat from AQI and like-minded extremists. The Expanded Neighbors Process has emerged as a forum in which Iraq and its neighbors can address the political and security challenges facing Iraq. The first Expanded Neighbors of Iraq Ministerial was convened in Sharm el Sheikh on May 4. At the ministerial, participants unanimously endorsed the creation of three working groups, including one on border security, which held its first meeting in Damascus later in the year. At the second Expanded Neighbors of Iraq Ministerial, hosted by Turkey on November 3, participants, including high-level representatives from all of Iraq's neighbors, issued a final communiqué that condemned all acts of terrorism in all its forms in Iraq. In August, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki met with Syrian President Bashar al-Asad and other top Syrian government officials to discuss improving bilateral cooperation on both the counterterrorism and border security fronts. Other senior Iraqi government officials also visited Syria in an effort to foster bilateral counterterrorism and border security cooperation.
Iraq remained a committed partner in counterterrorism efforts. The Iraqi security forces continued to build tactical and operational momentum and assumed responsibility for security in nine of Iraq's 18 provinces. Continued Coalition and other international support will be critical for the Iraqi government to continue building its capacity to fight terrorist organizations. Iraq's intelligence services continued to improve in both competency and confidence but will also require ongoing support before they will be able to adequately identify and respond to internal and external terrorist threats. The international community's support for investment and reconstruction are critically needed to ensure the success of the Government of Iraq’s plans to reduce violence, improve services, and increase economic opportunities.
Israeli civilians were killed in six separate terrorist attacks during the year, the lowest number since the first Intifada broke out. While the lethality of individual terrorist attacks declined in comparison to 2006, Israel nevertheless continued to suffer from terrorist threats emanating from the West Bank and Gaza. Israeli security sources continued to express concern that AQ and other external Sunni extremists might infiltrate the West Bank and Gaza, especially after Palestinian gunmen claiming affiliation with AQ blew up a vacant resort in Gaza in January. Claims of actual AQ presence in the West Bank and Gaza have not been substantiated.
Israel responded to the terrorist threat as it has in recent years, with targeted operations directed at terrorist leaders and weapons experts, Israel Defense Forces (IDF) incursions into the West Bank and Gaza to conduct roundup operations, and other efforts designed to increase pressure on Palestinian terrorist organizations and their supporters. The Israeli security services also imposed strict and widespread closures and curfews in Palestinian areas, and continued constructing an extensive security barrier in the West Bank and Jerusalem that Israeli officials believe has played an important role in making terrorist attacks more difficult to undertake.
Perceiving the need to restore deterrence vis-à-vis Lebanese Hizballah and its backers in Syria and Iran, the IDF conducted extensive military exercises in northern Israel and the Golan Heights. Diplomatically, Israel continued to make the case at the UN, in its bilateral relations, and through public diplomacy that it faced threats from Hizballah, which was re-arming with Syrian and Iranian help, and from Palestinian terrorist groups receiving financial support from Iran. Israel contended that Egypt did not do enough to stop the smuggling of arms and explosives from the Sinai into Gaza through tunnels under the Gaza-Sinai border. In October, the Army Corps of Engineers conducted a study of the situation, and Egypt agreed to utilize $23 million of its Foreign Military Funding budget this year to purchase anti-tunneling equipment. Egypt has also agreed to discuss coordination and constructive ways to address this problem with the United States, Israel, and the Palestinian Authority.
While rocket fire against Israeli civilian targets from Gaza by HAMAS and other terrorist organizations continued during the year, HAMAS did not otherwise take responsibility for terrorist attacks pursuant to a unilateral conditional cease-fire it announced in 2005. HAMAS likely aided other terrorist organizations in Gaza, including Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades (AAMB), and the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC), particularly after HAMAS seized power and expelled the legitimate Palestinian Authority government from Gaza in June.
Terrorist attacks that resulted in injuries and the Israeli responses included:
- On January 29, in the resort city of Eilat, a suicide bomber blew himself up in a bakery. Three Palestinian groups, PIJ, AAMB, and an unknown group calling itself "The Army of the Faithful", claimed responsibility for the attack.
- On February 25, the body of an Israeli settler was found in the Gush Etzion settlement bloc in the West Bank. The Israeli National Police said that he had been stabbed to death in a terrorist attack. No group claimed responsibility for the attack. Two young Palestinian men were subsequently arrested in a joint IDF-Israel Security Agency (ISA or Shin Bet) operation, and reportedly admitted to carrying out the attack based on religious grounds.
- On May 21 and 28, two Israeli civilians were killed when Qassam rockets launched from Gaza landed near them in the border community of Sderot.
- On November 19, an Israeli civilian was killed in a shooting incident near the West Bank settlement of Kedumim. The AAMB took responsibility for the attack. Two suspects were arrested the following day in a joint IDF-ISA operation. Palestinian security forces arrested a third suspect, who reportedly served previously in the Palestinian National Security Forces.
These incidents reflected an overall decrease in the number of successfully perpetrated terrorist attacks in comparison to previous years. Israeli security officials maintained that the decrease was not for lack of terrorists’ efforts, but because the security services were able to keep terrorist planners and operators off balance. Throughout the year, Israel's security services publicly reported several foiled attempts.
Three nearly successful attempts, in particular, could have had disastrous consequences if they had been carried through to completion. The first attempt occurred on February 20 and involved a PIJ militant who carried an explosive backpack onto an Israeli bus in Tel Aviv. After failing to detonate the backpack, the man fled the scene. The man, his PIJ accomplices, and the backpack were subsequently found by the Israeli security services. The PIJ commander who ordered the failed attempt was killed by IDF forces the following day in the West Bank. The second involved a truck bomb in Tel Aviv in March. For unknown reasons, the driver did not detonate the truck. The operation was discovered by the Shin Bet and suspected operators were subsequently detained. Press reports cite Shin Bet sources as alleging that HAMAS was behind the foiled attack. HAMAS never responded to the allegations. The third attack involved an explosive belt discovered in an apartment in Tel Aviv on September 22. According to Israeli security sources, the belt was intended to be used in an attack on the Yom Kippur holiday, to be carried out by a suicide bomber who had been arrested three days earlier in a joint IDF-ISA operation in the West Bank. A joint HAMAS-Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) cell in the West Bank reportedly planned the attack.
On the law enforcement front, in March, a Tel Aviv court sentenced three Israelis to 13 years in jail for assisting a Palestinian who killed five Israeli civilians and wounded 30 in the July 2005 suicide bombing of a shopping mall in Netanya. Another Israeli was sentenced to seven years imprisonment in May for transporting a Palestinian suicide bomber to a Tel Aviv cafe, where the bomber carried out his attack in 2002, killing an Israeli civilian and wounding 28 others.
Despite the fact that Palestinian terrorists were relatively unsuccessful in carrying out suicide bombings and other attacks within Israel, they were nevertheless able to harass Israel throughout the year with mortar attacks against the Israeli-manned crossings between Gaza and Israel, and with Qassam rocket launches from Gaza towards Israeli communities abutting Gaza, the majority of which were targeted at the town of Sderot in the southern Negev desert. The Israeli Foreign Ministry claimed that from mid-June through mid-December, 428 Qassam rockets and 590 mortar shells were fired from Gaza towards Israeli civilians and soldiers. On October 7, militants fired a 122 mm Grad missile into Israel. It struck the town of Netivot, 15 kilometers inside Israel. PIJ, HAMAS, the AAMB, and the PRC claimed responsibility for the rocket and mortar attacks. On the eve of the November 27 Annapolis Conference, attended by the United States, Israel, the Palestinians, and representatives of other Middle Eastern countries, the PRC announced that it would begin "Operation Autumn Storm" and launch hundreds of rockets towards Sderot and western Negev communities during and after the conference. This threat was not carried out.
The Israeli security services assessed that the use of rockets and mortars reflected recognition by the groups launching them that their best chances for success were through asymmetrical warfare. The reliance on rockets also reflected technological advancements that allowed the groups to manufacture the rockets cheaply, stockpile them, and launch them greater distances. Prior to HAMAS' takeover of Gaza in June, Israeli security experts also assessed that rocket attacks were being carried out in order to draw Israel into Gaza, and force PA President Abbas' Fatah party to cooperate with HAMAS. Mortars were used mainly against Israeli targets within or on the very edge of the Gaza, to include crossings, which had the effect of closing the crossings to the detriment of Gaza's residents.
During the first half of the year, Israel undertook small-scale military operations against suspected launch teams and sites in Gaza. After HAMAS’ June seizure of control in Gaza, the IDF sought to prevent launches by carrying out aerial attacks against vehicles it had identified as carrying rockets en route to launch sites in Gaza. The Israeli government also authorized targeted operations against terrorist leaders and operatives and the expansion of a buffer zone within Gaza wherein the IDF could carry out counterterrorist operations. Throughout the year, the IDF struck at areas used for launch sites in northern Gaza to deter launches. Israeli Air Force (IAF) helicopters also deliberately struck HAMAS military headquarters and other HAMAS installations in response to Qassam rocket attacks that HAMAS claimed it carried out.
Press reports also highlighted numerous attempts by Palestinians to kidnap Israeli citizens or high-value targets of interest, including foreign diplomats and journalists. In January, a French diplomat and his two bodyguards were kidnapped by AAMB gunmen in the West Bank. On March 12, BBC reporter Alan Johnston was abducted in Gaza by gunmen belonging to a Palestinian group calling itself "The Army of Islam" and was held for 114 days until his release on July 4. While in captivity, an AQ-affiliated Palestinian organization calling itself "The Palestinian Jihad and Tawheed Brigades" claimed that it executed Johnston, and blamed the Palestinian Authority and the British government for his death. Two videos were also released that showed Johnston dressed in an explosive vest, and threatened his death unless Palestinian prisoners in the UK and Jordan were released. HAMAS brokered his release in an apparent bid to demonstrate its control over Gaza.
Deterring the Threat from Hizballah and Syria
Israel's security establishment remained concerned about the terrorist threat posed to Israel in the north by Hizballah and its Iranian and Syrian backers. Israeli security officials said that Hizballah continued to provide support to select Palestinian groups to augment their capacity to conduct attacks against Israel. Israeli politicians and security officials pointed to Hizballah's efforts to rebuild and re-arm after the previous summer's war as evidence that Hizballah remained a threat to Israel. Throughout the rest of the year, Israeli officials claimed publicly that Hizballah had completely replenished its ranks, possessed even more short and medium-range rockets than it had before the 2006 war, had moved arms back into southern Lebanon, and was providing training to HAMAS operatives from Gaza.
During the summer, Israeli officials and media outlets also filled Israel's airwaves with dire predictions of a summer war between Israel and Syria that was likely to be started by a kidnapping or terrorist operation in the vicinity of the Golan Heights. With a view to deterring such a provocation, the IDF carried out large-scale, comprehensive military exercises for several weeks in the Golan Heights, in clear view of UN Disengagement Observer Force observers, the Syrian military, and Hizballah. While some observers feared that the exercises themselves might lead to a misunderstanding and a subsequent conflict, Israel's northern border remained comparatively quiet.
Increasing Pressure on HAMAS and Raising the Tunnel Problem
Israel continued to face the problem of terrorists in Gaza receiving funds and supplies through cross-border smuggling either through the Egypt-Gaza border, or under the border via tunnels, or by sea. In June, Israeli Prime Minister Olmert publicly stated that the smuggling problem had become so serious that the international community should consider deploying a multinational force between Gaza and the Sinai Peninsula. HAMAS said it would treat such a force as an occupying power.
Israeli security sources claimed in August that arms smuggling into Gaza had reached a peak since HAMAS' June takeover of Gaza. Specifically, officials said that since June, 40 tons of explosives, as well as large quantities of ammunition and over 150 RPG launchers had been smuggled into Gaza from Egypt. Israeli security sources also alleged that HAMAS had smuggled hundreds of terrorists from Gaza to Iran for advanced training across the Gaza-Sinai border and through tunnels underneath. They claimed that HAMAS was amassing an arsenal of sophisticated anti-tank missiles and long-range rockets of the type used by Hizballah in the Summer 2006 Israel-Hizballah conflict.
Israel responded to the ongoing tunnel problem by taking unilateral military action to root out and destroy the tunnels, and by increasing diplomatic pressure on Egypt to enhance security on its side of the Egypt-Gaza and Egypt-Israel border. Throughout the year, small IDF units, backed by helicopters and armored combat vehicles, entered southern Gaza on missions to search for terrorist suspects and tunnels. By the end of the year, more than 40 tunnels had been discovered and destroyed.
At the same time, the Israeli government increased pressure on the Egyptian government to encourage it to address the problem of smuggling through tunnels and the Rafah crossing. On December 26, Israeli Defense Minister Barak met with Egyptian President Mubarak and his aides about the arms smuggling problem and the flow of Palestinians between Gaza and Sinai.
The Palestinian Authority's (PA) counterterrorism efforts improved in 2007, with a new PA Cabinet under PM Salam Fayyad undertaking serious efforts to fight incitement and terror in the second half of the year. Nevertheless, additional efforts will be required to dismantle terrorist groups and infrastructure in the West Bank and Gaza. In the first half of the year, PA counterterrorism efforts and USG assistance to support these efforts were greatly complicated by HAMAS’ control of the PA government and by the creation of rival security forces in Gaza. In June, HAMAS militants captured PA offices and security bases in a violent takeover of Gaza. Subsequently, President Mahmud Abbas dismissed HAMAS Prime Minister Ismayil Haniyah and his cabinet. A new cabinet, appointed and led by PM Salam Fayyad, and USG security assistance to PA security forces in the West Bank, created new opportunities for PA action against terrorism.
The primary PA security forces (PASF) are the National Security Forces (NSF), police, Preventive Security Organization (PSO), Presidential Guard (PG), General Intelligence (GI, or Mukhabarat), and civil defense. While the GI, PG, and NSF are subordinate to the President, under Palestinian law all are under the jurisdiction of the Interior Minister. In Gaza, HAMAS has established separate police, coastal patrol, border guard, and “Executive Force” organizations under the former HAMAS Prime Minister’s control. HAMAS military-wing members were often integrated into their ranks. Militias such as the HAMAS and PIJ military wings, the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, and clan-based armed groups (especially in Gaza) also exercised significant control and carried out vigilante justice in areas where PASF were not present or were ineffective at delivering basic law enforcement.
There were no terrorist attacks against American citizens in the West Bank or Gaza during the reporting period. The PA made no progress in apprehending, prosecuting, or bringing to justice the perpetrators of the October 2003 attack on a U.S. Embassy convoy in Gaza that killed three USG contractors and critically injured a fourth.
While cooperation between the PA and Government of Israel security services improved in the second half of the year, local counterterrorism coordination remained weak. The PA protected and returned several Israelis, including IDF soldiers, who had entered Palestinian cities, including Jenin and Bethlehem.
In the West Bank, the PASF were hindered by a lack of resources and trained personnel, and an unclear chain of command and guidance. PASF officials frequently raised concerns about operational difficulties imposed by the Israeli government on PASF movement. Efforts to arrest and prosecute terrorists were also impeded by a disorganized legal system, a weak security apparatus, and inadequate prison infrastructure.
President Abbas and PM Fayyad put their weight behind a security program that included disarming fugitive militants and eventually dismantling armed groups. PM Fayyad has condemned violence against Israelis in harsh terms and has taken rapid action against those involved in attacks. Since becoming Prime Minister, Fayyad has condemned every attack against Israelis as contrary to Palestinian interests and commitments and has ordered immediate action, including planned prosecutions against the perpetrators.
The Fayyad-led PA government instituted stricter controls on media outlets and religious figures to reduce incitement. The Fayyad government’s political platform was the first to omit language concerning “the right of resistance,” and he and the PA government have actively criticized violence and terror as contrary to Palestinian interests.
The Palestinian Monetary Authority (PMA) continued building a Financial Follow-Up Unit (FFU) and developing capacity to track and deter financial transactions used to fund terrorist activity. The new PA Cabinet, formed in July, improved efforts to counter terrorist financing, and the Finance Ministry worked effectively with the Justice Ministry, Attorney General, and (as appropriate), with the Interior and Waqf Ministries to shut down illegal NGOs and charities. The PMA drafted an Anti-Money Laundering Law that was enacted as law by Presidential decree in November.
In its public statements, new legislation, security measures, and court cases, the Government of Jordan continued to place a high priority on its fight against extremism and terrorism. Those efforts coincided with an apparent shift in public opinion against extremism as reflected in poll results. The 2007 Pew Research Center Global Attitudes survey indicated a marked turn against support for terrorism among Jordanians. Only a fifth of respondents expressed any confidence in Usama bin Ladin (down from 56 percent four years ago), and fewer than a quarter viewed suicide bombing as justified (down from 43 percent in 2002, and from 57 percent in 2005). A common view among commentators was that antipathy toward extremism increased since terrorists killed 60 Jordanians in attacks on three hotels in Amman in 2005. According to the Pew data, while worries about terrorism fell in many countries since 2002, in Jordan concerns were up nearly threefold, from 15 percent to 42 percent.
King Abdullah used international fora, national addresses, and media interviews to denounce extremists and promote a tolerant, moderate brand of Islam. Speaking before the opening session of the new parliament in December, for example, the King promised to combat extremist Islam and “stand up to anybody who tries to abduct our religion or to monopolize fatwas for political reasons, for the purpose of using religion as a tool to subdue others for the sake of special or suspicious agenda.”
Parliament passed new anti-money laundering legislation that began to address a key law enforcement deficiency in what is otherwise a strong counterterrorism environment. The new law, which went into effect in July, created an Anti-Money Laundering Unit (AMLU) that is the central receiving point for all suspicious transaction reports related to money laundering. Although the law did not specify terrorism and terrorism financing as a predicate offense for money laundering, the AMLU believes it will be able to resolve these ambiguities through the issuance of regulations and Central Bank of Jordan instructions to obligated entities. This approach has not yet been tested in the courts.
Jordan’s security forces remained vigilant against terror threats. For example, the General Intelligence Directorate in February arrested members of al-Qa’ida in Iraq (AQI) who were attempting to infiltrate from Syria. Another member was killed in an armed confrontation in Irbid in January. Additionally, Jordan’s State Security Court (SSC), a special tribunal for terrorism and other cases that had both civilian and military judges and attorneys, maintained a heavy caseload. Examples of SSC actions included:
- In November, it ratified a prior ruling against two men who were convicted of plotting to launch an attack on Israel via the Jordanian border.
- In September, 16 people were convicted and given prison terms ranging from 20 months to five years for recruiting people to fight Americans in Iraq and carry out suicide attacks. Five of them, including Fatah al-Islam leader Shaker al-Absi, were tried in absentia.
- In August, five men were sentenced to prison terms ranging from 20 months to five years after being convicted of plotting acts that undermine Jordan’s relations with another country and subjecting the country to hostile acts.
- In July, two men were given prison sentences for plotting to kill Americans in Jordan “to avenge U.S. policies toward Muslims.”
- In April, sentences were handed to six men who plotted AQ-linked terrorist attacks at Queen Alia International Airport and hotels in Aqaba and the Dead Sea.
The SSC continued to review the cases in the trial of the defendants accused of plotting to assassinate President Bush during his November 2006 visit to Jordan. The three Zarqa residents, Nidal Momani, Sattam Zawahra, and Tharwat Daraz, stand accused of conspiracy to carry out terrorist attacks with flammable substances in Jordan, and of possession of illegal weapons and explosive substances for illicit purposes.
Additionally, in January, the Court of Cassation upheld the death sentence imposed on would-be suicide bomber Sajida Rishawi, who, in 2006 was convicted of plotting terrorist attacks against three hotels in Amman; she was the first woman to receive the death penalty in a terror-related trial in Jordan.
In 2007, the Government of Kuwait did not enact stronger antiterrorism and money laundering legislation, and it continued to have difficulty prosecuting terrorists and terrorism financiers and facilitators. The risk of a terrorist attack in Kuwait remained high because of U.S. forces in the country, regional tensions, and the Kuwaiti government’s reluctance to confront domestic extremists. Kuwait lacked legal provisions to deal with conspiracies to commit terrorist acts, a problem complicated by domestic politics. In the past, the Kuwaiti government took action against non-Kuwaiti residents involved in terror facilitation but was reluctant to take action against key local Sunni extremists unless there was a perception of clear and direct danger to Kuwaiti or U.S. interests. The Kuwaiti government was reluctant to support the designation of its nationals as terrorists or terrorism supporters under UNSCR 1267.
In April, the Kuwaiti government froze all financial accounts of terrorism financier Mubarak Al-Bathali and forbade him to open any further accounts in Kuwait. In July, Kuwaiti authorities arrested Jabir Al-Jalahmah for his role in facilitating the travel of jihadists to Iraq, but a Kuwaiti court later released him on bail.2 The Kuwaiti government had not prepared a case against Al-Jalahmah. Mohsen al-Fadhli, a U.S.-designated Kuwaiti terrorist, was believed to be in Jordan and remained at large. The Court of Cassation, Kuwait’s highest court, ruled in March 2005 that it did not have jurisdiction over al-Fadhli’s alleged financing of the terrorist attack on the USS Cole in October 2000.
The Kuwaiti government continued the prosecutions of the 36 members of the “Peninsula Lions” terrorist cell involved in January 2005 confrontations with police. In May, the Court of First Instance overturned the convictions of three defendants. In June, the Court of Cassation commuted the death sentences of four defendants to life sentences (equal to 25 years of imprisonment under Kuwaiti law). The Court of Cassation is reviewing the verdicts of the remaining 32 defendants in the Peninsula Lions case.
In 2002, twelve armed Kuwaitis attacked two U.S. service members outside a military base near Failaka Island. The Appeals Court acquitted five of the twelve defendants. In February 2007, the Court of Cassation reduced the fines of two of these defendants from 700,000 USD to 7,000 USD. Separately, in 2005, the Criminal Court convicted 18 Kuwaitis in absentia to three years in prison for recruiting jihadists to fight in Iraq. In October, the Appeals Court attempted to review the cases of seven of these individuals, but was unsuccessful since they remained at large.
In April and May, Kuwaiti courts upheld the not guilty verdicts of seven former Guantanamo detainees on terror-related charges. The Kuwaiti government had been appealing decisions previously rendered by lower Kuwaiti courts.
Nevertheless, Kuwait was an effective and reliable partner in providing security for U.S. military installations and convoys in Kuwait. In 2006, Kuwaiti police arrested three bidoons (stateless residents) for planning to attack U.S. military personnel. The Criminal Court convicted the bidoons in January 2007, and sentenced them each to ten years in prison, to be followed by deportation. The Court of Appeals was scheduled to review their case on December 31. Kuwait’s reluctance to address the social and economic conditions of its bidoon residents has resulted in this segment of the population becoming vulnerable to radical ideologies and terrorist recruiters.
In response to AQ threats to attack oil facilities in the Gulf, Kuwait took some steps to improve security at its petroleum installations and export terminals. In March, a multi-agency U.S. Critical Energy Infrastructure Protection team visited and provided the Kuwaiti government with a number of recommendations to improve its energy infrastructure security. Kuwait responded by taking initial steps to enhance physical security at several locations.
The Kuwaiti government’s legal regime for combating money laundering and terrorist financing lacked sufficient enforcement mechanisms, thus hindering its effectiveness. The Kuwaiti government implemented no cash reporting requirements for individuals leaving the country, and this was a significant vulnerability. While money laundering was a criminal offense, terrorist financing was not specifically prohibited. Kuwait had established an Anti-Money Laundering/Combating Terrorist Financing Committee (AML/CTF), with representation from a wide range of government ministries and domestic financial institutions. Kuwait was also an active member of the Middle East and North Africa Financial Action Task Force (MENA FATF). Although Kuwait had a Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU), it did not exercise independent authority in accordance with current international standards.
The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor (MOSAL) took some steps to strengthen its domestic monitoring regime of Kuwait-based Islamic charities, but was less effective in monitoring the activities of these charities outside Kuwait. The Kuwaiti government needs to accelerate its efforts to pass counterterrorism legislation, strengthen charity oversight, empower its FIU, monitor cash couriers, and fully conform to international standards and conventions on terrorist financing.
In 2005, Kuwait's Ministry of Awqaf (religious endowments) and Islamic Affairs launched an initiative to spread moderation and to combat extremism within the Muslim community. The Ministry’s World Moderation Center (WMC), tasked with implementing this program, offers a 45-day moderation course, which over 700 imams have completed thus far. The Center also began offering this course to high school Islamic studies teachers.
The moderation campaign has had some difficulty reaching the broader public, prompting the government to launch an awareness campaign on its behalf. The World Moderation Center sponsored international moderation conferences in London and Washington, D.C., and established a moderation center in Manchester, England.
Political violence continued throughout 2007. Most notable were the June 13, September 19, and December 12 car bombing assassinations of MP Walid Eido, MP Antoine Ghanem, and General Francois al-Hajj, respectively. The two MPs were part of the pro-government March 14 coalition, and several political allies of the two MPs charged that the Syrian government was responsible for the assassinations, which Syria strongly denied. These acts, the latest in a series of assassinations and attempted assassinations over the last three years, seemed designed to intimidate the pro-government forces and eliminate, through the process of killing MPs, their numerical majority in parliament.
On May 20, a conflict involving the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) and militant Islamic fundamentalist group Fatah al-Islam (FAI) erupted in Nahr el-Barid, a Palestinian refugee camp in the north. After a three-month battle, the Lebanese Army took control of the camp on September 2. The death toll was 168 LAF soldiers and an estimated 42 civilians. While the LAF were able to defeat FAI militants and secure the Nahr el-Barid camp, the Government of Lebanon still lacked control of the other eleven refugee camps in the country.
The assassinations of the MPs and the battle against FAI were followed by a December 12 car bombing that killed LAF Brigadier General Francois al-Hajj in the Christian town of Baabda, east of Beirut. General al-Hajj had been in charge of operations when Lebanon's army fought Islamic militants from Fatah al-Islam in Nahr el-Barid refugee camp. No one publicly claimed responsibility for the bombing, though potential suspects include FAI and its sympathizers.
On June 24, six soldiers in the Spanish contingent of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) were killed, and another two injured, when two improvised explosive devices (IEDs) exploded near their vehicle in southern Lebanon. While no organization claimed credit for the attack, it was widely viewed as an effort by those who oppose UNIFIL's efforts to prevent attacks against Israel launched from southern Lebanon.
During the last three years, there have been at least 12 assassinations and assassination attempts that resulted in more than 49 deaths, including that of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. Other attacks targeted Lebanese journalists and politicians critical of Syrian interference in Lebanon. All of these attacks remained unsolved. The UN International Independent Investigation Commission (UNIIIC) continued its investigation of the Hariri assassination and its assistance to Lebanon in the Lebanese investigation of the other assassinations.
By confronting and defeating FAI in the Nahr el-Barid camp, the government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and the LAF took a strong incremental step in combating and preventing terrorist activities. The battle against FAI marked the first time in 40 years that the LAF fought a major conflict as a single entity, and it was the first time the army entered a Palestinian refugee camp to eliminate an Islamic militant terrorist group and reestablish order and security. Also, the LAF continued to strengthen its border presence and increased patrols in the south, with assistance from UNIFIL. Even with the conflict in north Lebanon, the LAF was able to maintain its deployment commitments in the south.
While the Lebanese government has made progress, there were still concerns about its ability to combat terrorism. The Lebanese government continued to recognize Hizballah, a U.S.-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization, as a legitimate "resistance group" and political party. Hizballah retains its strong influence among Lebanon's Shia community, which comprises about one-third of Lebanon’s population. Hizballah maintained offices in Beirut and elsewhere in Lebanon.
The ongoing political stalemate over both the election of a president and the failure of Parliament to meet has contributed to enabling militant foreign Islamic extremists affiliated with or sympathetic to al-Qa’ida (AQ) to infiltrate Lebanon, and to set up operational cells. Palestinian militant groups continued to capitalize on the lack of government control within the camps. Some of these groups, such as AQ-affilated Asbat al-Ansar and Jund al-Sham, have been able to find safe haven within the camps to support their actions, most notably in the Ain el-Hilwah camp.
Although Syria withdrew its military forces from Lebanon in April 2005, it still maintains a covert intelligence presence. The Lebanese government has accused Syria of continuing to support and facilitate arms smuggling to Hizballah and Palestinian terrorist groups. Even with the continued LAF troop deployments, the Government of Lebanon still did not exercise full control over areas in the Hizballah-dominated south, the southern suburbs of Beirut, parts of the Bekaa Valley, and inside eleven Palestinian-controlled refugee camps. This lack of control provided opportunities for terrorist groups to operate relatively freely in some of these locations.
At the end of the year, the Lebanese government had not fully implemented provisions of UNSCR 1559, which called for respect for the sovereignty and political independence of Lebanon, the end of foreign interference in Lebanon, and the disarming and disbanding of all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias. While the Lebanese government was committed to fulfilling the provisions of UNSCR 1559, it maintained that implementation of Hizballah’s disarmament should be accomplished through "national dialogue” rather than force.
Lebanese authorities maintained that the amnesty for Lebanese individuals involved in acts of violence during the civil war prevented the government from prosecuting terrorist cases of concern to the United States. These cases included individuals involved in the 1985 hijacking of TWA Flight 847, during which a U.S. Navy diver was murdered, and the abduction, torture, and murder of U.S. hostages in Lebanon from 1984 to 1991. U.S. courts issued indictments against Lebanese Hizballah operatives responsible for a number of those crimes. Mohammad Ali Hamadi, who spent 18 years in a German prison for his role in the TWA hijacking, was released in December 2005 and was believed to be in Lebanon. The United States continued its efforts to bring him to trial before a U.S. court and formally requested his extradition.
With regard to terrorism finance, Lebanese officials played an active leadership role in the Middle East and North Africa Financial Action Task Force (MENA/FATF). The Central Bank of Lebanon's Special Investigation Commission (SIC), an independent legal entity with judicial status that is empowered to investigate suspicious financial transactions, investigated 209 cases involving allegations of money laundering and terrorist financing activities. On two occasions, the SIC was unable to designate or freeze the assets of two groups affiliated with Hizballah, because the groups were affiliated with a political party participating in the Lebanese government, and thus, a decision to freeze their assets would have been a political, rather than a legal decision.
Since the United States rescinded Libya's designation as a state sponsor of terrorism in June 2006, Libya has continued to cooperate closely with the United States and the international community on counterterrorism efforts. Since renouncing terrorism in 2003, Libya has endeavored to show its commitment to the War on Terror.
On November 3, Egyptian cleric and AQ leader Ayman al-Zawahiri announced a merger between AQ and the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG). In an audiotape, al-Zawahiri urged AQ fighters to topple the government of Libya, describing Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi as an "enemy of Islam" and criticizing Qadhafi's 2003 decision to renounce WMD and terrorism. According to press accounts, LIFG maintained a limited presence in eastern Libya and has facilitated the transfer of foreign fighters to join insurgents fighting U.S.-led forces in Iraq.
A number of U.S. court cases seeking compensation from Libya for its past support for terrorism remained unresolved. Libyan officials are engaging with the courts and, at USG urging, are continuing settlement talks with the claimants, including the families of the victims of the 1988 bombing of Pam Am flight 103 in Lockerbie, Scotland, and the 1986 bombing of the La Belle nightclub in Berlin.
A series of suicide bombing attacks shattered the relative lull in terrorist violence that had prevailed in Morocco since the 2003 Casablanca bombings. The attacks underscored that Morocco’s greatest terrorist threat stems from numerous small “grassroots” Salafi Jihadist groups. The main external terrorism threat to Morocco was al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and its demonstrated willingness to train inexperienced Moroccan extremists. Morocco adopted a comprehensive counterterrorism strategy that emphasized vigilant security measures, counter-radicalization policies, and strong international cooperation.
This year’s violence was centered in the city of Casablanca, Morocco’s commercial capital, but the last attack occurred in the city of Meknes.
- On March 11, an individual blew himself up in an Internet café.
- On April 10, three suicide bombers, cornered by police as a result of an investigation of the March bombing, blew themselves up to avoid capture, with a fourth being killed by the police.
- On April 14, two suicide bombers blew themselves up near the U.S. Consulate and the private American Language Center, respectively. Other than the attackers themselves, one person was wounded.
- In August, a fourth suicide bombing incident took place in Meknes when an individual unsuccessfully attacked a tourist bus with a crude improvised explosive device (IED), blowing his arm off but injuring no one else seriously.
Characteristics of the attacks supported previous analysis that Morocco’s greatest terrorist threat stems from the existence of numerous small “grassroots” terrorist groups in Morocco willing to commit violent acts against the state, foreigners, and innocent civilians. However, these separate followings in Morocco remained small, separate, and disorganized groups without territorial safe haven. These attacks, which appeared to have been, at best, poorly coordinated events, contrasted sharply with the 2006 terrorist incidents, which had more elaborate plots, albeit thwarted by Moroccan authorities.
Morocco has several external terrorist threats, including AQIM, al-Qa’ida (AQ), and extremist veterans returning from Iraq.3 The main threat from AQIM remained the knowledge transfer of AQIM operational capabilities to Morocco’s committed, but relatively inexperienced, Salafi adherents. There were credible reports of Moroccans going to northern Mali and Algeria and returning to Morocco after training with AQIM. In the wake of the December AQIM double bombing in Algiers, King Mohamed VI summed up Moroccan cognizance of the AQIM threat in a condolence message, stating that “Algeria’s security is linked to the security of the region.”
AQ’s information operations may have inspired the 2003 and 2007 bombings in Casablanca. AQ number two Ayman al-Zawahiri publicly threatened Moroccan and Western interests, and in December 2006 and November 2007, implicitly called for attacks on the two Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla, which, for many Moroccans, represent humiliating colonial legacies. In so doing, AQ demonstrated its ability to mix local grievances into its propaganda to increase its effectiveness.
Morocco’s comprehensive counterterrorism strategy not only emphasized identifying and neutralizing existing terrorist threats through traditional law enforcement and security measures, but also engaged in preventative measures to discourage terrorist recruitment through political reform and policy measures. King Mohamed VI led this effort by unambiguously condemning terrorism and those who espouse or conduct terrorism; he recently called terrorism something “alien to Islam and contrary to religion and law.”
In September, Morocco held free and fair elections of its lower house of parliament. Turnout for the election was lower than many expected (approximately 37 percent of registered voters) and the parliament’s institutional capacity remained limited. The parliament, however, has been a productive forum for moderate Islamists to air their views, in part offering a counterweight to extremist rhetoric.
The Moroccan government continued to implement internal reforms aimed at ameliorating socio-economic factors that terrorists exploit for recruitment and ideological purposes. The National Initiative for Human Development, launched by King Mohamed VI in 2005, is a $1.2 billion program designed to generate employment, combat poverty, and improve infrastructure, with a special focus on rural areas.
Morocco’s Ministry of Religious Endowments and Islamic Affairs (MOIA) continued the reforms launched in 2004 to counter extremist ideology and promote religious moderation and tolerance. MOIA supervised revisions to the country’s religious curriculum, broke with precedent by appointing 50 women as spiritual guides at mosques across the country, and installed a closed circuit television network that broadcast moderate religious sermons to 2,000 mosques per day.
Rabat continued to target aggressively and dismantle terrorist cells by enhancing policing techniques, coordinating and focusing the security services, and expanding and bolstering regional counterterrorism partnerships.
The Government of Morocco aggressively continued to pursue terrorism-related cases. Police investigations into the March 11 suicide bombings led police subsequently to capture Saad Houssaini, an individual linked to the 2003 Casablanca bombings who confessed to helping make the explosives for the March attacks.Police were also able to disrupt an attack in Casablanca a month later. The police tracked down the four men involved in the April 10 bombing as a result of an investigation of the March bombing and a tip they had received from an undisclosed source, according to press reports. The Government of Morocco also disrupted numerous cells dedicated to sending Jihadi fighters to Iraq, including one based in the northern Moroccan city of Tetouan. The Tetouan cell appeared to be both a nascent domestic terror cell and a feeding point into the Iraq foreign fighter pipeline.
The Government of Morocco emphasized adherence to human rights standards and increased law enforcement transparency as part of its counterterrorism program. The government provided non-governmental organizations with unprecedented access to prisons where individuals convicted of terrorism-related crimes were being held. Counterterrorism investigations and arrests appeared to be better targeted and legal proceedings more transparent throughout the year. The government also demonstrated unprecedented frankness in presenting candid assessments of the terrorism threat and its response to the public. Government appeals for public support with counterterrorism investigations, in this regard, also appeared successful. Subsequent to the March suicide bombing attacks, police were able to locate and raid a makeshift bomb making facility in Casablanca linked to the bombers after receiving tip-offs from local residents.
In May, Morocco implemented a comprehensive anti-money laundering bill that provided the legal basis for the monitoring, investigation, and prosecution of illegal financial activities. The law also called for the establishment of a centralized Financial Intelligence Unit. Both U.S. and EU assistance provided Moroccan police, customs, central bank, and government financial officials with training to recognize money laundering methodologies. Morocco had an effective system for disseminating U.S. and UN Security Council Resolution terrorist freeze lists to its financial sector and legal authorities. Morocco provided timely reports requested by the UNSC Sanctions Committee and, as a result, was able to freeze some terrorist-related accounts.
Transparent Moroccan court proceedings against detained terrorism suspects ended with prosecutorial successes. In March, Moroccan courts convicted eight individuals for plotting to conduct terrorist attacks in France, Italy, and Morocco. One of the defendants, believed to have ties to AQIM, received the maximum penalty of 15 years. The case of over 50 individuals linked to the Ansar al-Mahdi cell continued to move forward despite several delays. The judicial proceedings for six individuals allegedly linked to the 2007 Casablanca bombings began in May.
Another key to Morocco’s counterterrorism success has been its emphasis on international counterterrorism cooperation. The United States and Morocco have built a valuable relationship based on cooperation and an ongoing exchange of information. Moroccan authorities continued to disrupt plots to attack Moroccan, U.S., and other Western-affiliated targets, and aggressively investigated numerous individuals associated with international terrorist groups. Morocco forged solid cooperative relationships with European partners such as Spain and France, and continued to work to increase existing counterterrorism relationships with its North African neighbors.
Oman remained proactive in its implementation of counterterrorism strategies and its cooperation with neighboring countries to prevent terrorists from moving freely throughout the Arabian Peninsula. The Omani government promoted religious moderation and tolerance in an effort to prevent the spread of extremist ideology. A new comprehensive antiterrorism law was promulgated in January, which established the National Committee for Combating Terrorism and strengthened the country’s legal proscriptions against all forms of terrorist acts, including the furnishing of assistance to terrorists.
Oman is not a major financial center and did not have a significant money laundering problem. Nevertheless, it has adopted controls designed to prevent the use of its financial system to fund terrorist or other illicit activities. Following the launch of the “Oman Program for Anti-Money Laundering” (OPFAM) in 2006, the government sponsored two workshops to enhance the prevention, detection, investigation, and prosecution of money laundering. The Omani government continued to encourage information exchanges among relevant actors, standardize indicators to report suspicious transactions, and develop common guidelines to address the threat of money laundering.
Oman’s long coastline and relatively porous borders offered significant security challenges as they remained vulnerable to illegal transit by migrant workers, smugglers, terrorists, and individuals involved in the traffic and sale of illegal drugs. The government was concerned by the steady flow of illegal immigrants throughout the year attempting to enter Oman, often in transit to other destinations in the Arabian Peninsula, particularly the United Arab Emirates. The majority of the illegal immigrants apprehended were from Pakistan and Afghanistan. An increasing amount of Somalis illegally attempted to cross the border into Oman from Yemen. No known terrorists were found during immigration enforcement operations.
The Omani government has been aggressive in seeking training and equipment through the U.S. military to support its efforts to control its land and maritime borders. United States military assistance, including the sale of night vision equipment and the provision of training on maritime interdiction operations, was used to bolster coastal patrol efforts, modernize Oman’s coastal surveillance system, and made Oman’s remote inland borders with Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE less porous and easier to observe.
Qatari security services maintained tight control over immigration and effective monitoring of possible extremist events. While counterterrorism cooperation remained positive, the United States continued to strive for increased cooperation with the Qatari government on information sharing and political engagement.
There has not been a terrorist attack in Qatar since the March 19, 2005, suicide vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (SVBIED) attack at an amateur theater playhouse that killed a British citizen. Cooperation with U.S. law enforcement authorities continued to improve during and after the course of the investigation of this case. Press reports indicated that up to 19 people of various nationalities, including one Qatari, were apprehended during the ensuing investigation. There were no reports of criminal prosecution in the case; however, many of the third country nationals who were apprehended were deported subsequent to the investigation.
The Qatar Authority for Charitable Activities is responsible for overseeing all domestic and international charitable activities, including approving international fund transfers by charities and monitoring overseas charitable, development, and humanitarian projects. The Authority reports annually to Qatari government ministries on their status.
Cooperation with U.S. authorities on counterterrorism finance continued to develop. Qatar's Financial Information Unit resides in the Qatar Central Bank. Local banks worked with the Central Bank and the FIU on counterterrorism finance and anti-money laundering issues, and bank officials attended U.S.-sponsored conferences.
As of December 2007, Qatar was the only country in the Gulf with an Attorney General (AG) independent of the Ministry of Interior or Ministry of Justice, and equivalent to a ministerial level position. The AG independently controlled and oversaw public prosecutions and appointed attorneys within the Public Prosecutors Office. The AG's office was created in 2002 and maintains a National Security Office responsible for prosecutions under the 2004 Combating Terrorism Law. Prior to the creation of a separate AG office, the majority of public prosecutors were senior police officers, not trained lawyers.
Qatar was the only Gulf country with a public prosecutor exchange program with the U.S. Department of Justice. In November, six Qatari attorneys from the Public Prosecutors' office attended a two-week exchange; one week was spent studying financial crimes at the Public Prosecutors Training Academy Federal Advocacy Center at the University of South Carolina School of Law, and the second week was devoted to shadowing U.S. federal attorneys in Boston and New Hampshire.
As of mid-December, Qatar and the United States were discussing a non-binding memorandum of understanding (MoU) regarding judicial assistance and cooperation between the two nations. The MoU would allow both nations to strengthen judicial cooperation and to exchange evidence and information for use in prosecutions.
The USG has provided law enforcement and counterterrorism training under various programs, including the State Department’s Antiterrorism Assistance (ATA) program. The exchanges and training have had a positive effect in maintaining a good relationship with Qatari law enforcement agencies and increasing their ability to deter, disrupt, and defeat terrorist activity in Qatar. Operationally, however, this capability has yet to be fully tried, tested, or proven.
The Government of Saudi Arabia continued to confront terrorism and extremist ideologies, though with varying degrees of success. The country suffered two high-profile terrorist incidents: the shooting of four French citizens and the violent murder of a high-ranking Saudi colonel. Saudi security forces managed to capture or kill most of the assailants involved in the two incidents and successive government roundups resulted in hundreds of arrests that likely disrupted terrorist cells planning to carry out attacks in the Kingdom. The Saudi government continued its efforts to disrupt terror-related financial flows. Cooperation with the United States resulted in the arrests of 16 Saudi-based terrorism financiers and the successful implementation of new Saudi Customs cash courier regulations. The United States continued to urge Saudi Arabia to establish a Charities Commission to oversee all private charitable activities.
In February, a group of armed men attacked nine French nationals traveling near the city of Medina. Four of the victims were killed, including one teenager. By June, security forces had captured or killed all individuals suspected of being involved in the attack. In mid-April, a police colonel serving in Al-Qasim was found decapitated at his family rest house in Al-Qusaiah. The murder was widely believed to have been carried out by terrorists. Security forces later detained 30 people in connection to the murder. This was not the first time that terrorists attacked and killed a member of the security forces. In June 2005, terrorists murdered a lieutenant colonel in Mecca just outside his home.
The Saudi security forces continued efforts to make Saudi Arabia inhospitable for terrorists and their supporters. The security forces arrested 380 individuals suspected of involvement in terrorism during operations conducted throughout 2007. The announcements were widely reported in the press and may have bolstered a perception among the public that terrorism remained a threat but that the government continued to combat terrorism within the Kingdom actively. According to the Ministry of the Interior, these attacks neutralized several terror cells and prevented several planned attacks, including an imminent attack on an unnamed Saudi oil installation. Some of those arrested had allegedly received flight training abroad, while others planned to mount attacks against Saudi oil facilities or to murder public officials. Some of those arrested were planning to travel to Iraq or Afghanistan as foreign fighters.
To address the enduring concern over foreign fighters returning to Saudi Arabia from Iraq or Afghanistan, the Saudi government continued plans to construct a border security system. During the first half of the year, Saudi border guards seized large amounts of weapons and explosives from smugglers transiting the Saudi-Iraqi border and the Saudi-Yemeni border. They also apprehended a large number of individuals attempting to enter the Kingdom illegally and, through their investigations, located caches of weapons and explosives at undisclosed locations in the desert.
Saudi Arabia increased its efforts to disrupt terror-related financing in the Kingdom. In the past year, the Saudi government arrested more than thirty individuals suspected of financing terrorism. However, in the case of ten individuals arrested in February, some activists protested against the arrests and testified to the legitimate reform efforts of some of these individuals.
Despite these steps, the United States continued to urge the Government of Saudi Arabia to pursue and prosecute terrorist financiers more vigorously. The Saudi Government took action against suspected terrorism financiers by freezing their accounts and confiscating their assets. Saudi Arabia continued to comply with obligations under the UNSCR 1267 Sanctions regime, which included freezing assets of and enforcing a travel ban on three Saudi nationals designated in October.
New cash courier regulations in Saudi Arabia were put in place to curb illegitimate cross-border cash flows. Travelers transiting all 17 Saudi ports of entry were now required to declare cash, jewels, and precious metals with a value in excess of 16,000 USD. In the weeks preceding Ramadan, the Ministry of Interior reiterated Saudi law prohibiting the placement of donation collection boxes in department stores, shopping centers, pharmacies, mosques, and hospitals. The Saudi government had still not established its National Committee for Relief and Charity Work Abroad (Charities Commission). As a stop-gap, the Saudi government decreed that no local charities could send funds abroad until the Charities Commission was established.
Over the past year, Sheikh Abdul Aziz Bin Muhammad Al-Asheikh, the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, made statements undermining financial support for terrorism. During the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, the Grand Mufti delivered a sermon in which he cautioned young Saudis against traveling abroad under the pretext of jihad – a vague reference to joining the insurgency in Iraq. In the same speech, he urged Saudi citizens not to finance terrorism and be mindful of how their charitable contributions are distributed. In late November, the Grand Mufti declared that "deviant groups" guilty of corrupting society should be subject to severe punishment in accordance with Islamic law. Several Saudi Islamic scholars and officials including Dr. Saleh bin-Humaid, the Imam of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, voiced support for the Grand Mufti's words. While not a member of the Saudi government, the Grand Mufti is the most senior religious scholar in Saudi Arabia and his moral authority plays an influential role in shaping public opinion in the Kingdom.
On a more basic level, the Ministry of Islamic Affairs launched an extensive media campaign to educate young Saudis on the “correct” teachings of Islam in order to prevent them from becoming drawn to extremist doctrines. The campaign included messages incorporated into Friday sermons at mosques, distribution of literature and tapes, and publication of articles on the Internet. As a part of the campaign, the government published a book in October entitled, "Guarding Against Terrorism." The government also recently began to issue identification cards to imams and religious leaders to curb instances of unauthorized persons delivering Friday sermons.
The Kingdom took several steps toward prosecuting its growing prison population of terror suspects. Senior Saudi officials, including the Minister of Interior, Minister of Justice, and Supreme Judicial Council Chairman all publicly supported aggressive legal action against terrorists but it remained unclear exactly how many detainees have faced formal charges in Saudi courts and how many were awaiting trial at year’s end. During an address to the Shura Council on July 1, the Interior Minister stated that of some 9,000 suspected militants detained since 2003, 3,106 were still in detention.
The Saudi government also moved to reform its judicial system, including establishing a new state security court to try terrorism cases and expanding rehabilitation programs for terror-related prisoners. On October 1, King Abdullah issued a royal decree approving the restructuring of the judiciary to improve governance and efficiency of the Saudi court system. In addition, Saudi officials have announced the establishment of specialized state security courts to try terrorism cases. The Grand Mufti’s October fatwa against supporting jihad abroad also added gravitas to pending legal actions against terror financiers and facilitators. The Grand Mufti and Supreme Judicial Council Chairman have urged the courts to follow a strict interpretation of Islamic law, including sentencing unrepentant terrorists to death. However, they continued to offer incentives for good behavior and said that terrorists who surrender themselves to the authorities and repent will be given special consideration in accordance with Islamic law.
Saudi officials acknowledged that the long-term solution must include an effective rehabilitation program to undermine detainees’ adherence to extremist ideology. Accordingly, the government continued its extensive prisoner rehabilitation program aimed at addressing the social context within which individuals are recruited by terrorist groups. Officials involved with the rehabilitation program told the press that since the establishment of detainee counseling programs in 2004, the Interior Ministry had held more than 5,000 sessions to counsel more than 3,200 detainees and successfully rehabilitated and released more than 1,000 prisoners. Likewise, Saudi prisoners repatriated to Saudi Arabia from Guantanamo Bay underwent a similar rehabilitation program before reintegration into Saudi society.
Tunisian law enforcement organizations carefully monitored the activities of Tunisian extremists, both in Tunisia and abroad, which challenged the ability of terrorists to organize internally. In December 2006 and January 2007, government forces disrupted a terrorist cell that allegedly targeted domestic and foreign (including U.S. and UK) interests in Tunisia. Six of those involved allegedly entered Tunisia from Algeria, where they received training and support. Tunisian security forces killed 12 members of the group, reportedly called Assad Ibn Fourat’s Army, and captured 15 others. In December 2007, 30 individuals allegedly associated with the cell were convicted by the Tunis Court of First Instance of various terrorism-related charges. Lawyers have appealed the sentences, which ranged from death to five years imprisonment.
The Tunisian government actively prevented the formation of terrorist groups inside Tunisia, including prohibiting the formation of religious-based political parties and groups that it believed would pose a terrorist threat. Hundreds of other suspected terrorists were reportedly detained, charged, and/or convicted under Tunisia’s 2003 Terrorism Law and other relevant legislation.
Tunisian extremists were also involved in terrorist activities abroad, including in Algeria, Italy, Iraq, and Lebanon. Domestically, the government worked to improve security procedures at borders and airports. In April, 12 Tunisians were convicted of planning to travel to Algeria to join al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). A number of Tunisians suspected of involvement in terrorist incidents abroad were also repatriated and subsequently charged with or convicted of terrorist activities.
In November, Tunisia hosted an international conference on terrorism organized by the Islamic International Educational, Cultural, and Scientific Organization (ISESCO). The concluding statement of the conference, which was attended by over 100 international officials and opened by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and Tunisian President Ben Ali, stressed the role of education and economic development in defeating terrorism. During the year, Tunisia also hosted several meetings of Ministry of Interior officials from Arab League members, including ministers and chiefs of counterterrorism units, to review regional counterterrorism efforts and cooperation.
The Government of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) repeatedly condemned terrorist acts in Iraq, Lebanon, and elsewhere in the region. In order to prevent extremist preaching in UAE mosques, the General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowments provided prescribed guidelines for all Friday sermons, and required all 1,500 mosques that delivered sermons to record them each Friday to ensure that imams adhered to the guidelines.
The Container Security Initiative (CSI), which became operational at the ports of Port Rashid and Jebel Ali in the Emirate of Dubai in 2005, had five U.S. Customs officers co-located with the Dubai Customs Intelligence Unit at Port Rashid. On average, CSI reviewed approximately 250 bills of landing each week, resulting in 15-20 non-intrusive inspections of U.S.-bound containers; examinations were conducted jointly with Dubai Customs officers. In addition, Dubai Customs made requests that most, if not all containers that originated in Iran be designated for inspection.
Although generally cooperative in counterterrorism, cooperation on law enforcement matters was hampered by the lack of a mutual legal assistance treaty (MLAT) between the United Arab Emirates and the United States. The UAE has a cyber-crime law criminalizing the use of the Internet for terrorist groups to "promote their ideologies and finance their activities." The UAE has established a National Security Council charged with formulating and implementing a national strategic plan.
The UAE continued its efforts to combat terror financing, but challenges remain. The United States-UAE Joint Terrorist Finance Coordinating Committee met three times during the year, directly resulting in affirmative changes to the UAE's anti-money laundering laws. The UAE Central Bank provided training programs to financial institutions on money laundering and terrorist financing. However, the Central Bank remained resistant to implementing operations targeting passengers suspected of Bulk Cash Smuggling arriving from terrorist source countries. The Central Bank initiated memoranda of understanding with regional financial intelligence units, and performed anti-money laundering training both locally and regionally. The Central Bank investigated financial transactions and froze accounts in response to internal investigations. Nine prosecutions for money laundering were in process at year's end. In December, the Department of Justice provided training for prosecutors on Bulk Cash Smuggling in Dubai.
Yemen’s 2007 counterterrorism record was mixed. The Republic of Yemen took action against al-Qa’ida (AQ) and local extremists, arresting and killing several individuals suspected of having AQ ties, and prosecuted the perpetrators of previous terrorist acts. However, significant setbacks included the June 22 announcement that Abu Basir Nasir al-Wahishi was the new head of al-Qa’ida in Yemen (AQY), and the July 2 terrorist attack in Marib that killed ten people. Despite United States pressure, Yemen continued to implement a surrender program with lenient requirements for terrorists it could not apprehend, which often led to their relatively lax incarceration. Yemen also released all returned Guantanamo detainees after short periods of assessment and rehabilitation, into a government monitoring program that lacked strict monitoring measures. U.S.S. Cole bomber Jamal al-Badawi’s continued incarceration remained uncertain at the end of 2007.
On July 2, Abdu Mohamad Sad Ahmad Reheqa drove a suicide vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (SVBIED) into a group of western tourists in Marib, killing him and several others. AQY claimed responsibility. Three days later, U.S.-trained Yemeni security forces killed the suspected leader of the SVBIED bombing, Ahmed Basyouni Dwedar, an Egyptian wanted in Egypt for his ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. On August 8 and 13, Yemeni security forces raided two houses, arresting 17 and killing four AQ-affiliated suspects while suffering one casualty.
On June 22, AQ affiliate and February 2006 prison escapee Abu Basir Nasir al-Wahishi announced he was the new head of AQY, replacing Abdul Ali al-Harithi, who was killed in 2002. On August 23, the Yemeni Ministry of Interior instituted a gun ban in major cities
throughout Yemen based on a 1992 gun control law. Security forces continued to report increasing numbers of weapons seized.
Despite Yemen’s history of terrorist activity and repeated offers of assistance from the USG, Yemen lacked a comprehensive counterterrorism law. Current law as applied to counterterrorism was weak. In October, the government established a working group on drafting a comprehensive counterterrorism law. The Yemeni justice system was also ineffective. The courts did not set dates for the trials of suspects involved in the two September 2006 AQY-orchestrated attacks on oil facilities in eastern Yemen. In August 2006, the Sanaa Appellate Court returned to a lower court the case of two individuals accused of plotting in 2004 to assassinate the U.S. Ambassador, claiming the judge did not follow correct sentencing procedures. Consequently, the March 2006 convictions to five years in prison for Hizam al-Mass and Khalid al-Halilah were under appeal at year’s end.
Yemeni security forces continued to arrest and try suspected members of AQ and other terrorist groups throughout the year. On November 12, a Yemeni court sentenced December 2006 U.S. Embassy shooter Saleh Alawi al-Ammari to five years in prison. On November 6, the government sentenced 23 suspected AQ affiliated individuals to between two and 15 years in prison.
Although the government lacked laws to criminalize or prevent foreign fighters going to Iraq, it applied available lesser laws to thwart foreign fighter activity. At year’s end twenty-one individuals awaited the appeal of their July 2006 Special Penal Court conviction on fraudulent document charges relating to traveling to Iraq to attack U.S. forces. On August 22, a Yemeni court sentenced 19 individuals charged with conspiring to travel to Iraq to attack U.S. and Yemeni interests to 40 months in prison for falsifying documents, possession of arms and aiding AQ suspects.
On August 8, the courts sentenced two Yemenis to one year in prison for their part in the February 2006 escape from a maximum security prison of 23 suspected AQ supporters. Much of this sentence will be time served. The escapees included individuals convicted of participating in the 2000 U.S.S. Cole and 2002 M/V Limburg attacks. On January 15, the Yemeni security forces killed prison escapee Yasir Hamayqani in southern Yemen. In total, ten escapees returned to Yemeni custody and security forces killed six. The government could not account for seven of the escapees at year’s end.
In May 2006, a security court convicted Mohammed Hamdi al-Ahdal, allegedly AQ's number two in Yemen, to 37 months in prison for financing terrorist groups associated with AQ.
The government had a surrender program for wanted terrorists that it believed it could not apprehend. The program provided lenient requirements for completion of convictions to those who surrendered. Most notably on October 15, mastermind of the U.S.S. Cole bombing and February 2006 prison escapee Jamal al-Badawi surrendered to Yemeni authorities. He was released to house arrest on October 17, under the terms of this program. Following substantial USG pressure, he was back in jail by October 29. The Yemeni constitution precludes extradition of Yemeni citizens.
Yemen used its Islamic Dialogue Committee, headed by a leading judge who was also the Minister of Religious Guidance and Endowments, to continue its dialogue with detainees arrested for connections to terrorist groups. The government released detainees it considered rehabilitated after they pledged to uphold the Yemeni constitution and laws, the rights of non-Muslims, and the inviolability of foreign interests. The government also released all 12 returned Guantanamo detainees, lacking sufficient evidence for convictions after short periods of assessment and rehabilitation. The government monitoring program of released detainees was loose. The government considers this program to have a very high success rate, but this has not been independently corroborated.
The Government of Yemen's capacity for stemming terrorism financing remained limited. On November 6, the government presented a terrorism financing bill to parliament for approval, where it remained at year’s end. On August 6, the UN agreed to a study at the behest of the Yemeni government to rescind the 2004 UN 1267 sanctions against Abdulmajeed al-Zindani, who was associated with promoting and supporting AQ. Yemen continued to take no action to bar his travel or freeze his assets in compliance with its UN obligations. Throughout the year, President Saleh continued to voice public support for al-Zindani and his Al-Iman University.
1 The 2006 counterterrorism law was the first of its kind in Bahrain to specifically criminalize terrorism. It enumerated the types of crimes considered to be terrorism and established punishments, ranging up to and including the death penalty. The law also criminalized conspiracy to carry out an act of terrorism and outlawed membership in proscribed groups, including al-Qa’ida. Bahrain enacted amendments to an existing anti-money laundering law in 2006 that criminalized the undeclared transfer of money across international borders for the purpose of money laundering or in support of terrorism. Anyone convicted under the amended law of collecting or contributing funds, or otherwise providing financial support to a group or people who undertook terrorist acts, was subject to imprisonment and/or fine. The amendments also codified a legal basis for a disclosure system for cash couriers. The implementing regulations have not yet been enacted, however.
2 In December 2006, the U.S. Department of the Treasury designated three Kuwaiti nationals as terrorist supporters within the U.S.: extremist cleric Hamid Abdallah Al-Ali, and terrorism facilitators Mubarak Al-Bathali and Jabir Al-Jalahmah. In December 2005, a Kuwaiti court acquitted Hamid Al-Ali for his role in inciting the Peninsula Lions attack of January 2005.
3 While overall numbers of Moroccans fighting in Iraq are difficult to estimate, some press reporting puts the number at several hundred. The precedent in the 1990s of Jihadists returning to North Africa after the conflict in Afghanistan also underscores this potential threat.