Chapter 2. Country Reports: Middle East and North Africa Overview
"Terrorism and criminality are the enemies of every religion and every civilization. They would not have appeared except for the absence of the principle of tolerance."
--King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia
The United Nations, New York City
November 13, 2008
Most governments in the region cooperated with the United States in counterterrorist activities and undertook efforts to strengthen their capabilities to counter terrorism effectively. These efforts included participation in USG-sponsored antiterrorism assistance (ATA) programs and taking steps to bolster banking and legal regimes to combat terrorist financing.
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 device (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 also 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.]
The Expanded Neighbors Process continued to provide a forum for Iraq and its neighbors to address the political and security challenges facing Iraq and the region. In November, the Iraqi government sent representatives to Syria to participate in the second Neighbors Process working group on border security where the group sought new ways to limit the flow of foreign terrorists into Iraq.
Israel responded to the terrorist threat as it has in recent years, with operations targeted at terrorist leaders, terrorist infrastructure, and active terrorist activities such as rocket launching groups. Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and Israel Security Services (ISA) continued incursions into the West Bank to conduct roundups and other military operations 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. The regular and indiscriminate rocket attacks on Israel from Gaza were met by retaliatory fire by the IDF. Israel also maintained its targeted assassinations policy in Gaza. While there continued to be 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. The Israeli Air Force increasingly launched airstrikes against launch teams in November and December following escalations in rocket and mortar attacks. Israel launched Operation Cast Lead in Gaza on December 27 in response to these rocket attacks.
In Lebanon, a campaign of domestic political intimidation continued, including several attacks against members of the Lebanese army and Internal Security Forces. In May, Lebanese Hizballah initiated armed confrontations against Lebanese government and other Sunni and Christian elements in the country following the government’s efforts to shut down Hizballah’s independent telecommunications network, in addition to the removal of the Hizballah-affiliated head of airport security. A Hizballah official suspected in several bombings against U.S. citizens, Imad Mughniyeh, was killed in Damascus, Syria in February. No one has taken responsibility for his death.
Attacks in Algeria in August killed nearly 80 people. These attacks were indicative of the shifts in strategy made by al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) towards attacks employing suicide tactics and improvised explosive devices (IEDs), and the targeting of Western interests as well as Algerian government officials and civilians.
On March 10, AQIM claimed responsibility for kidnapping two Austrian tourists near the Tunisia-Algeria border. The hostages were released on October 31 after a ransom was paid. In February, the Tunisian courts handed down guilty verdicts on eight of 30 Tunisians convicted in a December 2007/January 2008 plot targeting U.S. and UK interests in Tunisia.
The security situation in Yemen deteriorated significantly over the past year as al-Qa’ida in Yemen increased its attacks against Western and Yemeni government institutions. On January 17, suspected al-Qa’ida operatives ambushed a tourist convoy in the eastern Hadramout Governorate, killing two Belgians. The U.S. Embassy was attacked on September 17; fatalities included several Yemeni security personnel and citizens, as well as an American citizen.
The security situation in Algeria was marked by a decrease in the number of high profile terrorist attacks throughout the country compared with 2007, although the overall number of attacks did not decline and ongoing low-level terrorist activities continued in the countryside. In the first half of the year there was a lull in attacks by terrorist groups as security forces stepped up their operations following the December 2007 bombing of the UN headquarters in Algiers. There was a dramatic rise in terrorist attacks during the month of August, however, with at least 79 people killed in various incidents across northeastern Algeria, most of them in suicide bombings. The targets included police stations, a coast guard outpost, and a bus transporting Algerian workers for a Canadian company. Previously, the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), now al-Qa'ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), focused on targeting Algerian government interests and had been more averse to suicide attacks and civilian casualties. Although Algerian government interests remained the primary focus of AQIM, the attack on the bus and an attack against French railroad workers confirmed AQIM’s intention to act on its public threats against foreigners. AQIM continued to diversify its tactics by importing tactics used in Iraq and Afghanistan.
National reconciliation remained a contentious issue for many Algerians, who are still divided over whether amnesty and re-integration or a more aggressive, unforgiving approach to terrorism is the best way to address the continuing threat. Although the Charter for Peace and National Reconciliation has officially expired, its terms may still be applied on a case by case basis at the exclusive discretion of the president.
Following the 2006 announcement of affiliation with al-Qa’ida (AQ), AQIM began to increase the threats against what it termed "crusading" Westerners, particularly American and French citizens, although Russians, Danes, Austrians, and now Canadians have been targeted as well. AQIM support cells have been discovered and dismantled in Spain, Italy, Morocco, Mauritania, and Mali, with AQIM-maintained training camps and support networks in northern Mali.
The year was punctuated in the month of August with several high-profile terrorist attacks:
- On August 3, a police station in Tizi Ouzou, the capital of the Kabylie region, was damaged in a suicide bomb attack, leaving over twenty people injured.
On August 9, eight people, all civilians, were killed in an attack on a police station in Zemmouri al-Bahri, a seaside town to the east of Algiers.
- On August 10, three policemen were killed in a bomb attack on the nearby beach of Tigzirt.
- On August 19, the heaviest casualties from the August spate of attacks occurred when a suicide bomber exploded his vehicle outside a gendarmerie training college in Issers where prospective new recruits were waiting for the gates to open. The Algerian government reported that 43 people were killed and 45 injured.
- On August 20, there were two car bomb explosions in the nearby town of Bouira. The first, outside a military building, left four soldiers lightly wounded, according to the official Algerian Press Service. The second exploded outside of a hotel and killed 11 people.
It was reported that the hotel was being used to house foreigners working on the nearby Koudiet Acerdoune dam project, run by a Canadian company. During the attack, the driver of the suicide vehicle rammed a bus carrying workers of the company and detonated the bomb.
The police and army response to the August attacks was energetic, and public disapproval of the large number of civilians killed in the attacks increased the number of tips phoned in, which may account for the historically low number of attacks that occurred during the subsequent Ramadan holiday in September. A noticeable increase in the visible security presence in major cities may have also contributed to the low number of terrorist incidents during Ramadan.
The majority of attacks have occurred in rural and suburban areas. The terrorists were very careful to establish remote bases, communicate sparingly, and planned and carried out attacks meticulously. AQIM appeared aware of the need to avoid civilian casualties, but this has been difficult to accomplish as its police and military targets often operated among civilians. Roadside bombs and ambushes persisted despite the efforts of the security forces. In some cases, however, approaching terrorists were intercepted before they could successfully complete their attacks. The combination of a population weary of civilian casualties from over a decade of Islamic terrorist violence, and the growing availability and use of cell phones has made the terrorists more vulnerable to detection and attack by the police.
AQIM's strategy in Algeria appeared to be influenced by AQ's experience in Iraq. AQIM has issued directions to avoid civilian deaths and attacks have been concentrated on military, police, and foreign targets. AQIM sought to disrupt business and commercial activity and probably used such attacks to discourage foreign investment. The overall civilian death toll due to terrorist attacks has declined in recent years.
It was estimated that the Algerian security services killed, wounded or arrested 1,000 terrorists in 2008, compared to an estimated combined figure of about 1,100 for 2007. Although the total number of attacks rose in 2008 to 295 compared to 218 in 2007, the number of civilian casualties decreased. The counterterrorism successes of the Algerian services, combined with the public rejection of terrorists, possibly reduced AQIM's overall effectiveness. One of the most effective counterterrorism operations took place in August when 12 terrorists were killed in the forests of Ouacif and Ain Elhamam, in the wilaya of Tizi Ouzou. The surge in terrorist activity in late August may have been revenge attacks for this operation. In addition, over 300 terrorists were sentenced (often in absentia, with sentences never carried out) to capital punishment during the year, of which 257 were sentenced by the court of Boumerdes alone. The Government of Algeria instituted a program to hire 100,000 new police and gendarme officers, reinforce the borders, augment security at airports, and increase the overall security presence in the city of Algiers. The initiative was effective in reducing the impact of terrorist incidents during the year and also demonstrated the government's determination to fight terrorism.
AQIM, thanks in part to high unemployment among Algerian youth, was partially successful in replenishing its numbers after the arrests, surrender, or death of an estimated 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 in August, the overall security situation remained greatly improved from the situation of the late 1990s. The Algerian military and security forces were often criticized as slow to adapt to AQIM's changing tactics as well as slow to accept that they faced a better organized international threat in the form of AQIM rather than a purely internal threat.
The Government of Bahrain actively monitored terrorist suspects, but domestic legal constraints at times hampered its ability to detain and prosecute such suspects. The trial of five men accused of membership in a terrorist organization, undergoing terrorist training, facilitating the travel of others abroad to receive terrorist training, and financing terrorism ended with their conviction on January 16. The court sentenced the five to six months imprisonment with credit for time served. The case represented the first use of the new 2006 counterterrorism law.1
Security forces monitored the activities of two other Bahraini citizens and arrested them on June 9. Prosecutors charged the men with maintaining links to al-Qa’ida and financing terrorism. Their trial began on August 24 and was ongoing at year’s end.
Bahrain continued its cooperation with U.S. authorities on counterterrorist finance. Its Financial Information Unit (FIU) resides in the Central Bank of Bahrain (CBB). The CBB, FIU, and local banks worked cooperatively on counterterrorist finance and anti-money laundering issues. The government expressed its desire to host a conference in conjunction with the U.S. Department of the Treasury on the regulation of Islamic charities. In addition, Bahrain hosts the Middle East and North Africa Financial Action Task Force secretariat.
While there were no attacks by foreign terrorist groups in Egypt, the smuggling of humans, weapons, and other contraband through the Sinai into Israel and the Gaza Strip has created criminal networks that may be associated with terrorist groups in the region. The apparent radicalization of some Sinai Bedouin may possibly be linked in part to these smuggling networks and Egyptian efforts to dismantle them.
The Egyptian and U.S. governments maintained a strong dialogue and shared information on a broad range of counterterrorism and law enforcement issues. In 2008, Egypt hosted the fourth annual session of the U.S.-Egypt Counterterrorism Joint Working Group.
In the past six years, Egypt has tightened its terrorist finance regulations in keeping with relevant UN Security Council resolutions. Egypt strengthened its anti-money laundering legislation by specifically adding terrorism financing to the list of punishable crimes. The Government of Egypt also maintained open lines of communication with U.S. officials concerning terrorist finance information. The Egyptian government regularly informed its own financial institutions of any individuals or entities that are designated by any of the UN sanctions committees. A team from the UN Counterterrorism Committee Executive Directorate visited Egypt to review efforts to implement UN Security Council resolutions on counterterrorism.
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 Egypt's Emergency Law, which has been in force since 1981, and was renewed by Parliament for two years in June. President Mubarak has pledged to lift the Emergency Law and has called for new counterterrorism 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 reportedly has been drafted but not yet submitted to Egypt's Parliament.
The imprisoned former leader of Egyptian Islamic Jihad, Sayid Imam al-Sharif, issued a sequel to his 2007 critique of violent jihad. His critique, while not a rejection of the concept of violent jihad, attempted to establish "rules of engagement" and also suggested non-violent alternatives.
Iraq remained a committed partner in counterterrorism efforts. The Iraqi government, with support from Coalition Forces, continued to make significant progress in combating al-Qa’ida in Iraq (AQI) and affiliated terrorist organizations, as well as Shiite militia elements engaged in terrorism. The significant reduction in the number of security incidents throughout much of Iraq, beginning in the last half of 2007, continued in 2008, with an even further decrease in civilian casualties, enemy attacks, and improvised explosive device (IED) attacks.
Terrorist organizations and insurgent groups continued attacks on Coalition and Iraqi security forces using IEDs, including vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices, and suicide bombers. Beginning in November 2007 and through July 2008, improvised rocket-assisted mortars were used in attacks on Coalition Forces resulting in both military and civilian casualties. AQI and its Sunni extremist partners also increasingly used Iraqi nationals and females as suicide bombers. Coalition Forces conducted a full spectrum of operations to defeat the adaptive threats employed by AQI, by, with, and through Iraqi forces.
Iraqi and Coalition Forces tactically defeated many AQI cells in Baghdad and Anbar, and AQI elements consolidated into Ninewa and Diyala provinces. Despite being limited to smaller safe havens within Iraq, AQI retained pockets of extremists in and around Baghdad and in Anbar. In Ninewa, Coalition Forces focused operations against AQI and like-minded Sunni extremists by capturing or killing senior leaders. On October 5, U.S. troops killed Abu Qaswarah, AQI’s Emir of the North and second-in-command. AQI continued primarily to target the Iraqi security forces, SOI (Sons of Iraq) 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 and their focus seemed to have shifted to such attacks. In addition to countering AQI and Sunni extremists, Iraq is making progress in defeating terrorists with alternative motivations.
Foreign terrorists from North Africa and other Middle Eastern countries who were sympathetic to Sunni extremists continued to flow into Iraq, predominantly through Syria. Their numbers, however, were significantly fewer than in the previous year. Terrorism committed by illegal armed groups receiving weapons and training from Iran continued to endanger the security and stability of Iraq, however incidents of such violence were markedly lower than in the previous year. Many of the groups receiving ideological and logistical support from Iran were based in Shia communities in Central and Southern Iraq. Iraqi government officials continued to strongly condemn terrorists from all quarters. On November 19, Iraq, Turkey, and the United States renewed its formal trilateral security dialogue as one element of ongoing cooperative efforts to counter the militant Kurdish nationalist group, Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Iraqi leaders, including those from the Kurdistan Regional Government continued to publicly state that the PKK was a terrorist organization and would not be tolerated in Iraq. The Trilateral discussions continued through the end of the year.
The Iraqi government increased its bilateral and multilateral efforts to garner regional and international support against the common threat of terrorism. The Expanded Neighbors Process continued to provide a forum in which Iraq and its neighbors could address the political and security challenges facing Iraq and the region. In November, the government sent representatives to Syria to participate in the second Neighbors Process working group on border security where the group sought new ways to limit the flow of foreign terrorists into Iraq. Also on the diplomatic front, ambassadors from Jordan, Bahrain, Syria, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, and the Arab League all presented their credentials in 2008.
The Iraqi government pressed senior Iranian leaders to end support for lethal aid to Iraqi militias, and the Iraqi army defeated extremists trained and equipped by Iran in Basra, Baghdad, and other areas. For example, in the Charge of the Knights operation in April in Basra, Prime Minister Maliki ordered Iraqi security forces to combat extralegal Iranian-supported militias. Iraqi forces arrested violent extremists, confiscated arms, and helped to reestablish the rule of law in Basra. The operation was Iraqi-led, while small British and American Military Transition Teams were in place to provide Iraqi leaders with advice, access to surveillance, and the ability to call for additional resources as needed.
On April 19, in published comments in response to the operations, Muqtada al-Sadr threatened to wage “open war until liberation” against the Iraqi government unless it agreed to stop targeting Mahdi Army members. Attacks by Mahdi Army members increased in Baghdad’s Sadr City neighborhood after Sadr’s statement. However, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari vowed, in response, that the Iraqi government would continue to pursue militias. Although attacks by militants have since sharply decreased, Shia militant groups’ ties to Iran remained a challenge and threat to Iraq’s long term stability.
The Government of Iraq attributed security gains to both the Coalition troop surge and the purported decisions by some elements affiliated with Muqtada al-Sadr's Jaysh al-Mahdi Army to forego armed action in favor of political activity. Improved Iraqi Security Forces proficiency and increasing popular support for the actions of Iraqi Forces against AQI and other extremist groups also illustrated security progress. SOI groups provided Coalition and Iraqi forces with valuable information that helped disrupt terrorist operations and exposed large weapons caches. The SOI began integration into Iraqi Security Forces in October. Sunni tribal awakening movements formed alliances with the coalition against AQI and extremist groups. Ethno-sectarian related violence continued to decline, although reports late in the year that Christians were targeted for assassination in Mosul indicated that AQI still sought to sow fear and instability by promoting inter-ethnic and inter-religious animosity.
The Iraqi security forces continued to build tactical and operational momentum and assumed responsibility for security in all of Iraq's 18 provinces. On November 17, the Governments of Iraq and the United States signed a Security Agreement that provided the legal basis for continued security cooperation, which will help Iraq build its capacity to fight terrorist organizations, and established formal mechanisms for ensuring that future security operations are conducted in accord with the Security Agreement. Continued 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 require ongoing support before they will be able to adequately identify and respond to internal and external terrorist threats.
Israel, West Bank, and Gaza
Twenty-seven Israeli civilians were killed in at least 10 separate terrorist attacks during the year, up from six attacks in 2007. Israel continued to experience terrorist threats emanating from the West Bank and Gaza. Rocket and even more accurate mortar fire emanating from the Gaza Strip were Palestinian terrorist organizations' preferred form of attack, while incidents of Palestinian suicide bombings continued to decline relative to previous years.
Israel responded to the terrorist threat as it has in recent years, with operations targeted at terrorist leaders, terrorist infrastructure, and active terrorist activities such as rocket launching groups. Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and Israel Security Services (ISA) incursions into the West Bank continued to conduct roundups and other military operations 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. By some reports, Israeli military operations in 2008 killed an estimated 782 Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, including at least 315 by year's end as a result of Israeli Air Force (IAF) airstrikes.
Radical groups used Gaza casualties for propaganda purposes. Due to budgetary constraints, construction on an extensive security barrier in the West Bank and Jerusalem was sporadic in 2008. Israeli officials believed the separation barrier played an important role in making terrorist attacks more difficult to undertake.
Terrorist attacks in Israel and the West Bank included the following:
- On February 4, a Palestinian suicide bomber struck a shopping mall in the southern town of Dimona, killing one person and injuring nine others. Israeli police killed a second attacker before he was able to detonate his bomb belt. Two terrorist groups, the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade (AAMB) and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), claimed joint responsibility for the attack.
- On March 6, a Palestinian resident of East Jerusalem shot and killed eight students and wounded 11 others at the prominent Mercaz Harav Kook Yeshiva (Jewish religious school) in West Jerusalem. An off-duty soldier entered the yeshiva and killed the assailant.
- On April 25, a terrorist operating on behalf of HAMAS and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) infiltrated Israel from the West Bank and shot to death two civilian security guards at an industrial park near the village of Qalansuwa.
- On June 1 and 20, Israeli settlers fired three rockets toward the Palestinian town of Burin. In late July, settlers threw a Molotov cocktail into a home in Burin as well. No injuries were reported from either attack.
- On July 2, a Palestinian resident of East Jerusalem killed three people and wounded at least 18 others with a bulldozer in West Jerusalem before being shot and killed by an off-duty soldier. The government defined the incident as a terrorist attack, but police were unable to determine a clear motive.
- On July 22, a Palestinian resident of East Jerusalem wounded at least 16 people with a bulldozer on a busy West Jerusalem street before being killed by police. The attack was widely viewed as a copycat of the July 2 attack.
- On September 25, a prominent Hebrew University professor and critic of Jewish settlements in the West Bank was wounded when a pipe bomb, allegedly planted by radical members of the settlement movement, exploded as he opened the door of his home in West Jerusalem. After the attack, police found flyers near the academic’s home calling for the establishment of a new state in the West Bank based on Jewish religious law. The flyers, signed by a Jewish extremist group called the Army of the State Liberators, also offered USD 314,000 to anyone who killed a member of the non-governmental organization, Peace Now. Israeli Security Services continued to investigate the attack.
- During the year, rocket, mortar, and sniper fire from the Gaza Strip killed eight Israeli civilians and one Ecuadorian kibbutz volunteer.
Throughout the year, Israel's security services were able to keep terrorist planners and operators off balance, reporting multiple foiled attempts:
- On January 16, IDF, Civil Administration, and police forces intercepted a truck containing 800 kg of potassium/nitrate at the Eliyahu border crossing south of Qalqiliya, West Bank. Potassium nitrate is a banned substance in Gaza and the West Bank due to its use in the manufacturing of explosive devices and Qassam rockets.
- On November 4, IDF and security forces discovered a tunnel situated 250 meters from the Gaza security fence that they believed would be used for the abduction of IDF soldiers. Israeli forces killed several militants during an ensuing firefight.
- On November 12, IDF forces killed four armed militants in Gaza that were attempting to place an explosive device near the Gaza security fence.
- On November 28, IDF forces identified another attempt by militants to lay an explosive device at the Gaza security fence near Khan Yunis. In an ensuing firefight, IDF forces killed one terrorist and wounded four others.
The smuggling of commodities, arms, explosives, and funds in support of terrorist groups such as HAMAS through tunnels along the Philadelphi Route between the Gaza Strip and Egypt remained problematic. On January 23, HAMAS terrorists blew up several sections of the border fence separating the Gaza Strip from the Egyptian town of Rafah. According to the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), HAMAS used this opportunity to smuggle explosives, anti-tank, and anti-aircraft weapons into the Gaza Strip.
Despite the fact that the IDF thwarted the above-mentioned attacks, terrorist groups conducted mortar attacks against the Israeli-manned crossings between Gaza and Israel, and Qassam rocket launches from Gaza that terrorized Israeli communities abutting Gaza. Palestinian terrorists routinely fired rockets and mortars at Israeli civilians from the Gaza Strip despite an Egyptian-negotiated truce or cease fire between Israel and HAMAS that began on June 19. According to the Israeli MFA, Palestinian terrorist groups fired approximately 1,750 rockets and 1,528 mortars into Israel in 2008, up from 896 rockets and 749 mortars in 2007. Rocket and mortar attacks began to escalate toward the end of the year; the MFA estimated that Palestinian terrorist groups fired 213 rockets and 126 mortars at Israel from November 4 to December 18 in the lead up to the end of the ceasefire. On December 17, the press reported that terrorist groups in Gaza fired 25 Qassam rockets at Israel. On December 18, HAMAS leadership announced the end of the ceasefire. In total, 361 rockets were launched on Israel from Gaza during the month of December. Targeted Israeli towns included Sderot and Ashkelon, as well as a number of nearby agricultural collectives (kibbutzim) and IDF bases. Palestinian terrorist groups increasingly used 122 mm Grad missiles, which landed in or near Ashkelon. While there were no fatalities resulting from rocket and mortar attacks between the June 19 ceasefire and December 18, these attacks resulted in numerous cases of shock and property damage, and disrupted daily life.
The reliance on rockets reflected technological advancements that allowed groups to manufacture the rockets cheaply, stockpile them, and launch them greater distances. As the rockets' ranges continued to increase, Israeli authorities in the port city of Ashdod initiated emergency response training in anticipation of eventual rocket attacks in their city. Mortars were used mainly against Israeli targets within or on the edge of the Gaza Strip, to include crossings, which had the effect of closing the crossings to the detriment of Gaza's residents.
From February 29 to March 1, the IDF conducted Operation Warm Winter against terrorist targets in Gaza. Following the November 4 tunnel discovery along the Gaza security fence, Israel undertook small-scale military operations and airstrikes against suspected launch teams and sites in Gaza. The Israeli Air Force increasingly launched airstrikes against launch teams in November and December following escalations in rocket and mortar attacks. Israel launched Operation Cast Lead in Gaza on December 27 in response to these rocket attacks. In the first few days of the operation, the Israeli air force and navy conducted a heavy bombardment of HAMAS targets in the Gaza Strip, including bases, training camps, and suspected weapons caches. These actions caused civilian casualties and some international observers alleged that the Israeli response was disproportionate.
Israel's security establishment remained concerned about the terrorist threat posed to Israel in the north by Hizballah and its Iranian and Syrian sponsors. Israeli security officials said Hizballah continued to provide support to select Palestinian groups to augment their capacity to conduct attacks against Israel. Throughout the year, Israeli officials claimed publicly that Hizballah had completely replenished its ranks, possessed more short and medium-range rockets than it had before the 2006 war, had moved arms back to southern Lebanon, and was providing training to HAMAS operatives from Gaza. While Israel's northern border remained comparatively quiet, the IDF continued a strong exercise schedule and military presence in the Golan Heights.
HAMAS and Hizballah continued to finance their terrorist activities against Israel mostly through state sponsors of terrorism Iran and Syria, and through various fundraising networks in Europe, the United States, the Middle East, and to a lesser extent, elsewhere. The funds channeled to these organizations frequently passed through major international financial capitals, such as Dubai, Bahrain, Hong Kong, Zurich, London, or New York. Unlawful funding bound for terrorists that may pass through Israel's financial sector, however, was well monitored and often blocked. Israel has adopted strong measures to prevent terrorist financing through its financial sector or through the smuggling of financial instruments. Regulation and enforcement of its domestic financial industry was equivalent in scope and effect to other highly industrialized and developed nations. Israel's Counterterrorist Finance regime is administered as part of its Anti-Money Laundering program (AML/CFT).
The Israeli National Police (INP), with the advice of the security services, is charged with enforcement of counterterrorist finance laws. Regulation of and intelligence on financial crimes is coordinated by the Israel Money Laundering and Terror Financing Prohibition Authority (IMPA), in coordination with the National Security Council. The INP reported no indication of an overall increase in financial crime relative to previous years. The IMPA received approximately 17,152 suspicious transaction reports, disseminated 529 intelligence reports to law enforcement agencies and to foreign Financial Intelligence Units, and reported that approximately USD two million was frozen or forfeited in AML/CTF-related actions.
On the law enforcement front, the ISA and INP continued to cooperate with U.S. law enforcement agencies on cases involving U.S. citizens killed in terrorist attacks. On October 29, the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, voted to continue work on a biometrics bill by sending it to the Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee for further work. The bill proposed that Israel switch to "smart" identification methods such as fingerprints and digital photographs on identification cards and passports.
The Israeli government released convicted Lebanese terrorist Samir Kuntar and four Hizballah militants on July 16 in exchange for the remains of two Israeli soldiers whose capture by Hizballah sparked the 2006 War with Lebanon.
The Israeli Counterterrorism Bureau issued a warning in October in advance of the Jewish holiday season that terrorist groups may attempt to kidnap Israeli tourists in the Sinai. Terrorists held hostage and later killed four Israeli citizens at the Chabad House as part of the November 26 attacks on Mumbai, India.
West Bank and Gaza
The Palestinian Authority's (PA) counterterrorism efforts improved in 2008, with Prime Minister Salam Fayyad's government engaged in efforts to control terrorist groups, particularly HAMAS. The PA was unable to undertake counterterrorism efforts in the HAMAS-controlled Gaza Strip, however. Besides being responsible for hundreds of rocket, mortar, and small arms attacks into Israel, HAMAS and other armed groups in Gaza engaged in tunneling activity, and smuggled weapons, cash, and other contraband into the Gaza Strip. HAMAS has created its own security forces in Gaza, built around its military wing cadres, which now number at least 15,000. In the West Bank, PA security forces (PASF) followed up on efforts to establish law and order and fight terrorist cells with security deployments to Jenin, Bethlehem, and Hebron. All observers, including Israeli security officials, credited PASF with significant security improvements across the West Bank.
Terrorist groups such as HAMAS, Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), and the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades (AAMB) remained active, but their ability to carry out attacks from the West Bank has been degraded. Extremist settler groups were also a threat in the West Bank, and have engaged in attacks against Palestinians and incitement against Palestinians and Israeli security forces.
The primary PA security forces are the National Security Forces (NSF), police, Preventive Security Organization (PSO), Presidential Guard (PG), General Intelligence (GI or Mukhabarat), and Civil Defense. All forces are under the Interior Minister's operational control and follow the Prime Minister's guidance. In the Gaza Strip, HAMAS has established separate internal intelligence, police, coastal patrol, border guard, and "Executive Force" organizations. HAMAS military-wing members were often integrated into their ranks. Militias in Gaza such as the HAMAS and PIJ military wings, the AAMB, and an assortment of clan-based armed groups also carried out attacks against Israel.
Palestinian terrorist groups, particularly PIJ and HAMAS, received substantial foreign funding and support from foreign terrorist organizations, mainly those based in Syria and Lebanon. The PA has aggressively pursued HAMAS-linked groups and institutions in the West Bank, but has not fully dismantled HAMAS or other terrorist organizations and their infrastructure in territory under its control. In March, a HAMAS cell from the southern West Bank carried out a suicide bombing in Dimona, Israel, killing an Israeli woman. In April, PIJ gunmen infiltrated the Tulkarm industrial area and killed two Israeli security guards.
The situation in and around Gaza was much worse. In April, HAMAS gunmen killed two Israeli civilians at the Nahal Oz fuel terminal after infiltrating into Israel. Over 3200 rockets and mortars were fired from Gaza into Israel in 2008, killing eight Israelis and one third-country national, and causing several injuries. HAMAS also engaged in tunneling activity and smuggled weapons, cash, and other contraband into the Gaza Strip.
No progress was made 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.
Cooperation between the PA and the Government of Israel security services improved in 2008. Nevertheless, PASF commanders have complained that the IDF did not coordinate counterterrorism efforts with them and conducted unilateral raids in towns in Palestinian areas. The PA protected and returned several Israelis, including IDF soldiers, who had inadvertently entered Palestinian cities, including Jenin, Jericho, and Bethlehem.
The United States worked with PA security commanders to assist their CT efforts, including in its deployments to Jenin, Bethlehem, and Hebron. The Antiterrorism Assistance Program provided training for over 200 PA security personnel, primarily members of the Presidential Guard.
In the West Bank, PASF’s ability to counter terrorism was hindered by a lack of resources, unclear chain-of-command, and IDF-imposed restrictions on their movement, equipment, and operations. PASF officials frequently raised concerns about operational difficulties due to IDF restrictions on PASF movements. Efforts to arrest and prosecute terrorists were also impeded by a disorganized legal system and inadequate prison infrastructure. PA courts were inefficient and failed to ensure fair and expeditious trials, while most Palestinian prisons were destroyed in Israeli military operations during the second Intifada and have not been rebuilt.
President Abbas and PM Salam Fayyad have publicly and consistently supported a security program that includes disarming fugitive militants, aggressively arresting members of terrorist organizations, and gradually dismantling armed groups. PM Fayyad has condemned violence against Israelis in harsh terms and 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 arrests and prosecutions.
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 PA Cabinet improved efforts to counter terrorist financing, and the Finance Ministry worked with the Justice Ministry, Attorney-General, Supreme Judicial Council, and (as appropriate) Interior and Waqf Ministries to shut down illegal NGOs and charities. USAID supported the PA’s financial sector reform efforts through its Modernizing Financial Institutions project. The PA enacted Anti-Money Laundering (AML) legislation in late 2007 and used its provisions to freeze suspect bank accounts, although the law does not criminalize all terrorist financing activities. The PA continued to experience substantial shortcomings in investigating and prosecuting financial crimes due to personnel shortages and limited technical expertise in law enforcement and the judiciary. The PA is also lagging in its implementation of the AML law due to limited regulatory guidance for the private sector.
In its public statements and security measures, the Government of Jordan continued to place a high priority on its fight against violent extremism, against a backdrop of low support for terrorism among Jordanians. The Pew Research Center Global Attitudes survey of 2008 indicated that only 19 percent of Jordanian Muslims expressed confidence in Usama bin Ladin and only 25 percent believed suicide bombing was ever justified. This is approximately the same as 2007, but reflects a multi-year downward trend.
According to the same survey, however, Jordan was the only Muslim country in which most respondents had favorable opinions of HAMAS, a designated foreign terrorist organization. The demographic realities attendant to hosting a majority Palestinian population, coupled with intensifying concern in Jordan about the stalled peace process and instability in the Palestinian areas, were among the factors behind a government decision to renew contact with HAMAS. News of the meetings first surfaced in July. Jordan in recent years had maintained one of the more antagonistic policies toward HAMAS among Arab states.
The Jordanian government offered little public comment on its motivations and plans for engagement with HAMAS, saying talks were narrowly focused on security issues. According to an August poll by the Jordan Center for Strategic Studies, conducted after the first public reports of the HAMAS-Jordan meetings, the percentage of Jordanian respondents who said they viewed HAMAS as a "legitimate resistance organization" increased from 59 to 71 percent since June; the pollster attributed the rise in HAMAS' popularity in part to the HAMAS-Government of Jordan warming trend.
Even as the Jordan-HAMAS relationship thawed somewhat, the Jordanian government continued to express its staunch support for the Palestinian Authority, led by Fatah's Mahmoud Abbas, and for the peace process. Noteworthy in this regard was Jordan's ongoing training of over a thousand Palestinian security forces at the Jordan International Police Training Center (JIPTC) outside of Amman. Throughout the year, graduates were deployed in the West Bank cities of Jenin and Hebron. These forces contributed significantly to the security of these areas and helped advance peace and stability in the West Bank.
Jordan continued to reinforce the need for moderate authentic Islam worldwide. In a mid-November statement on the third anniversary of the 2005 Amman hotel bombings that killed dozens of Jordanians, King Abdullah II reiterated the need to fight terrorism and takfirism (when Muslims assert that other Muslims are not true followers of Islam, and in some cases deserving of death), and to deliver an Islamist message based on moderation and rejection of extremism. Also in November, Jordan hosted a conference entitled "Toward an Islamic Renaissance Plan." Participants called on the Arab media to "open the media, cultural, and political doors for the trends of centrism and moderation... to enable this trend to reach the large masses, which are grabbed by the trends of religious and non-religious extremism and fanaticism."
Putting such directives into practice, Jordan's Public Security Directorate (PSD) inaugurated a program in November to expose criminals in the general prison population suspected of takfiri sympathies to a select group of jurists and professors of Islamic law. It was also intended to help convince them, through dialogue, to revise their extremist thinking and thus, limit the danger that those prisoners would influence other inmates. More generally, Jordan's various security services sought to identify potential radicals before they become violent and to direct them toward a more moderate path.
Jordan's security forces remained vigilant against terrorist threats. The State Security Court (SSC), a special tribunal for terrorism and other cases that have both civilian and military judges and attorneys, maintained a heavy caseload and brought many to trial while convicting others.
- In August, the SSC sentenced 15 men to prison for plotting to recruit people to fight Americans in Iraq, also convicting the defendants of plotting actions that would have subjected the Kingdom to hostile acts.
- In June, the Court sentenced three men after they were convicted on charges of storing weapons in Jordan for HAMAS. The court sentenced Ayman Naji Hamadallah to 15 years in jail with hard labor and handed down five-year jail terms against Muhammad Ahmad Abu-Rabi and Ahmad Abu-Dhyab. The defendants were convicted on the charge of "conspiring to commit acts of terrorism."
- Also in June, the SSC sentenced an al-Qa'ida (AQ) network affiliate, Awni Mansi, to life imprisonment with hard labor on charges of possessing automatic weapons with illicit intent and attempted murder during a shoot-out with police in Irbid in January 2007. According to the indictment, Mansi had been assigned by an AQ member in Syria to recruit Jordanian men for training in Syria and Lebanon before being sent to Iraq.
- In May, the SSC sentenced Sattam Zawahra, Nidal Momani, and Tharwat Daraz to 15- year prison terms after convicting them of plotting to assassinate President George W. Bush during his visit to Jordan in November 2006. The tribunal first handed the defendants the death penalty but immediately commuted the sentence to 15 years because they were "still young and deserve a second chance in life."
It should also be noted that in May, Jordan's Supreme Court overturned the 10-year sentence of Muammar Ahmad Yusuf al-Jaghbir, who had been convicted for his role in the 2002 murder of USAID official Laurence Foley in Amman. The Court referred the case back to the SSC.
While the security forces and the SSC responded effectively to terrorism, some legal tools proved impotent. For example, certain multilateral conventions on counterterrorism that the Jordanians have ratified (for example, the UN Convention Against Hostage Taking, Suppression of Terrorist Bombings, Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism), were not recognized by the Ministry of Justice as able to withstand judicial scrutiny because they were never enacted by Parliament and/or published in the Gazette.
In June, the Jordanian Securities Commission Board of Commissioners issued anti-money laundering (AML) regulations for securities activities, a positive step toward defining obligated entities falling under the regulatory purview of the Commission. These regulations established requirements for creating effective internal anti-money laundering, record keeping requirements, and required specific due diligence procedures for dealing with high risk customers, including politically exposed persons. The lack of comprehensive legislation addressing terrorist financing, however, remained a gap in Jordanian efforts to impede money laundering and terrorist financing (CTF). During 2008, over 400 Jordanians in banks, the insurance commission, Jordan Customs, the Public Security Directorate, the General Intelligence Directorate, as well as judges and prosecutors, received training on the full range of AML/CTF issues.
In mid-December, the United States and Jordan signed an agreement to work cooperatively to detect, deter, and interdict illicit smuggling of nuclear material, deepening the Jordanian-U.S. partnership in the global effort to prevent nuclear terrorism and proliferation. The agreement will help Jordan expand its detection systems at various ports of entry and lead to the training of Jordanian officials on the use and maintenance of the equipment.
The Government of Kuwait exerted measured effort but made little progress in combating terrorism; successive parliamentary dissolutions prevented the enactment of stronger antiterrorism and money laundering legislation, and the government continued to have difficulty prosecuting terrorists and terrorism financiers and facilitators.
Kuwait was an effective and reliable partner in providing security for U.S. military installations and convoys in Kuwait. The risk of a terrorist attack in Kuwait remained high, however, because of the government-welcomed presence of U.S. forces in the country.
Kuwait lacked legal provisions to deal with conspiracies to commit terrorist acts, a problem exacerbated by the contentious relationship between the executive branch (headed by Kuwait’s ruling family) and the elected legislative body, the National Assembly, which must approve such legislation. In general, the Kuwaiti government was more likely to take action against non-Kuwaiti residents involved in terrorist facilitation, but showed reluctance to take legal or preventative action against key local Sunni extremists unless there was a perception of clear and direct danger to Kuwaiti or U.S. interests.
The Kuwait's Ministry of Awqaf (religious endowments) and Islamic Affairs’ World Moderation Center offered a 45-day moderation course, which over 700 imams have completed thus far.2 The Center also began offering this course to high school Islamic studies teachers. During the year, Kuwaiti officials visited the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s rehabilitation center with the intent to establish a similar center in Kuwait; the Kuwaiti Prime Minister announced this initiative in a September meeting with the Secretary of State of the United States. However, at year’s end, the Rehabilitation Center had not yet been established reportedly due to legal constraints. The Amir of Kuwait made a call for tolerance and dialogue at the November UN General Assembly-sponsored Interfaith Dialogue in New York.
The Government of Kuwait increased its cooperation with NATO by conducting a six-day joint exercise in November that focused on combating terrorist attacks and piracy. Kuwait Army Commandos, Kuwait National Guards, and a Jordanian Special Forces Unit also participated in a November joint exercise on combating terrorism in residential areas.
Kuwait experienced a dramatic increase in dialogue on counterterrorism; the government engaged in numerous high-level counterterrorism talks with U.S. officials including the President, and senior civilian and military officials on issues ranging from border security, cyber security, and recidivism of terrorists. In March, Kuwait participated in an Antiterrorism Assistance (ATA) workshop designed to improve its interagency counterterrorism coordination.
The Kuwaiti government lacked sufficient enforcement mechanisms for combating money laundering and terrorist financing, thus hindering its effectiveness. The 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, 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. Although Kuwait had a Financial Intelligence Unit, it did not exercise independent authority in accordance with current international standards. A revised anti-money laundering draft law, which would criminalize terrorist financing, has been pending Council of Ministers’ approval and subsequent referral to the National Assembly for passage since August. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor regulates charities; transfers of donated funds abroad must be approved by the ministry.
The Kuwaiti government made several arrests on terrorism-related charges, but was unable to successfully prosecute or detain for a lengthy period because of the lack of evidence and/or the lack of a clear definition of terrorism under its constitutional framework.
Significant acquittals took place during the year:
In October, the Kuwaiti Council of Ministers published an Action Plan which included and allocated USD 2.7 billion for counterterrorism initiatives to be implemented by the Ministry of Interior by 2012. Among them are:
- Counterterrorism and Radicalism programs (USD 2.6 million): These programs would focus on enforcing international security agreements related to terrorism and radicalism, countering radical thought, engaging the media to denounce radicalism, establishing preventive security measures to protect infrastructure and vital installations, censoring radical web sites, reviving the role of NGOs in combating radical thought, and protecting Kuwaiti interests all around the world.
- CCTV Surveillance System (USD 1 billion): This project aims at monitoring and securing vital installations, highways, populous areas, land borders, and islands.
Since 2004, there have been numerous assassinations and assassination attempts of prominent Lebanese figures, including former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. The attacks targeted Lebanese political and military figures and journalists, many of whom were critical of Syrian interference in Lebanon. All of these attacks remained unsolved at year’s end. The UN International Independent Investigation Commission (UNIIIC) was appointed to investigate the Hariri assassination and related cases.
Terrorist violence in 2008 included the following incidents:
- In February, Kuwait’s highest court, the Court of Cassation, acquitted two Kuwaiti former Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp detainees. The public prosecutor failed to convince the court that the defendants endangered Kuwait’s ties with friendly nations by joining al-Qa’ida (AQ) and the Taliban. The Kuwaiti government later acknowledged its failure to effectively monitor the movements of these defendants when former detainee Abdullah al-Ajmi, along with another Kuwaiti citizen, participated in a March suicide attack in Mosul, Iraq.
- On April 23, the Court of Appeals overturned a seven-year sentence (in absentia) and acquitted two “Peninsula Lions” terrorists involved in the January 2005 confrontations with the police.
- Counterterrorism and Radicalism programs (USD 2.6 million): These programs would focus on enforcing international security agreements related to terrorism and radicalism, countering radical thought, engaging the media to denounce radicalism, establishing preventive security measures to protect infrastructure and vital installations, censoring radical web sites, reviving the role of NGOs in combating radical thought, and protecting Kuwaiti interests all around the world.
- CCTV Surveillance System (USD 1 billion): This project aims at monitoring and securing vital installations, highways, populous areas, land borders, and islands.
- On January 15, a U.S. Embassy armored vehicle was atta cked with an improvised explosive device north of Beirut, injuring two embassy body guards, killing three Lebanese bystanders, and injuring 20 others, including one American citizen.
- In January 25, a car bomb in the Hazmieh suburb of Beirut killed an Internal Security Force (ISF) Intelligence officer that had been assisting with UNIIIC’s investigation, along with his driver and four others.
- On August 13, a road side bomb detonated in Tripoli, killing 12 Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) soldiers, six civilians, and wounding more than fifty.
- On September 29, a road side car bomb in Tripoli detonated, killing four LAF soldiers and two civilians.
- On September 10, a car bomb attack killed Sheikh Saleh al-Aridi, a senior member of the Lebanese Democratic Party led by Druze leader Talal Arslan. This was the first assassination since 2004 that targeted a pro-Syrian politician.
The end of former President Emile Lahoud’s term in November 2007 and the subsequent vacuum in the presidency left Lebanon in a state of political turmoil. The political deadlock lasted until May 2008, when the government’s designation of Hizballah’s independent communications network as illegal and decision to remove the Hizballah-loyal chief of airport security sparked armed clashes between Hizballah and other groups in Beirut that quickly spread to other parts of the country. The clashes ended a few days later with the help of Arab League intervention which led to the Qatari-brokered Doha Agreement of May 21. The agreement ended the months-long political impasse and paved the way for the May 25 election of consensus candidate former LAF Commander Michel Sleiman as president. A national unity government was officially formed on July 11, including three cabinet ministers appointed by the President, 16 ministers appointed by the majority March 14 coalition, and 11 ministers appointed by the March 8 opposition (including one minister from Hizballah), as agreed in Doha.
In September, the new government selected General Jean Kahwagi as the new LAF Commander. Kahwagi is a respected commander with experience in the Nahr al-Barid Palestinian refugee camp fighting Fatah aI-Islam (FAI) terrorists in an urban setting. The U.S. government has an active antiterrorism assistance program with the LAF, which includes both training and equipment.
While the Lebanese government has made progress, there were concerns about its ability to combat terrorism, especially in Lebanon’s 12 Palestinian refugee camps. A porous border with Syria, weak internal camp security by Palestinian authorities and Lebanese security authorities, and reticence to enter the camps all contributed to a concern that there would be another confrontation against an armed group in one of the camps. The most widely predicted venue for such a clash is in Lebanon’s most populous refugee camp, Ain al Hilweh, near the southern city of Sidon. The camp is well known for intra-Palestinian violence and is a safe haven for fugitives.3 As of December, the Lebanese authorities were reportedly making efforts to capture Abdel al-Rahman Awad, believed to be the successor of FAI leader Shaker al-Abssi. (Abssi is a fugitive, and there is speculation that he is in Syria or that he has been killed by Syrian security authorities.)
UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1559 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. Hizballah, which the United States has designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, is also a political party represented in Lebanon's cabinet and parliament. 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. President Sleiman launched a new round of the National Dialogue talks in September. (The previous National Dialogue began in 2006 and was never resumed after the 2006 war.) The 14 participants in the dialogue represent the major Lebanese political parties that participated in negotiations for the May 2008 Doha Agreement. After the third round of talks in December, participants agreed to form a committee to evaluate participants, proposals for a "National Defense Strategy," which is intended to include how to deal with Hizballah’s weapons.
Border security remained problematic. Even with LAF troop deployments after the 2006 war, the Government of Lebanon still does not exercise control over parts of the border in the Hizballah-dominated Bekaa Valley, in addition to the wider problem of Hizballah’s military presence in the southern suburbs of Beirut, southern Lebanon, and parts of the Bekaa Valley. It was quite likely that smuggling of weapons from Syria to Hizballah and other militant groups in Lebanon continued. Reports from the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) and the LAF said there was no conclusive evidence of arms smuggling to Hizballah in the area of southern Lebanon patrolled by UNIFIL (south of the Litani river). This was despite Hizballah officials' comments to the press that the organization is now more heavily armed than it was before the 2006 war with Israel.
UNSCR 1701 called upon Lebanon to secure its borders at all entry points to pre vent entry of arms, weapons of mass destruction, or related material without its consent. In May 2007, the UN Secretary General dispatched a border security team to Lebanon (the Lebanon Independent Border Assessment Team or LIBAT) to assess the monitoring of Lebanon’s border with Syria. In July 2008, a second assessment team (LIBAT II), responsible for assessing the implementation of the recommendations of LIBAT I, was sent to Lebanon. The overall assessment of LIBAT II was that the borders are as penetrable and insecure as they were in 2007 and concluded that the rate of implementation of LIBAT I’s recommendations was insufficient. At the border crossing points and particularly along the eastern border with Syria, little progress was observed. However, some positive steps like the installation of security equipment such as scanners and computerization of passport control have been taken.
Lebanese officials played an active leadership role in the 2008 MENA-FATF (Middle East and North Africa Financial Action Task Force) and the US-MENA (Middle East and North Africa) Private Sector Dialogue. Lebanon's Financial Intelligence Unit is the Special Investigation Commission (SIC), an independent legal entity empowered to investigate suspicious financial transactions. It investigated 186 cases involving allegations of money laundering, terrorism, and terrorist financing activities. The SIC referred requests for designation or asset freeze regarding Hizballah and groups affiliated with Hizballah to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but does not require banks to freeze these assets, because the Lebanese government does not consider Hizballah a terrorist organization.
Lebanese authorities maintained that the amnesty for Lebanese individuals involved in acts of violence during the 1975-90 civil wars 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; the bombings of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut in 1983 and 1984; and the abduction, torture, and murder of U.S. hostages in Lebanon from 1984 to 1991. A Hizballah official suspected in several bombing attacks against U.S. citizens, Imad Mughniyeh, was killed in Damascus, Syria in February 2008. 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 has formally requested his extradition. The United States does not have an extradition treaty with Lebanon.
The United States rescinded Libya's designation as a state sponsor of terrorism in June 2006. Libya renounced terrorism and weapons of mass destruction in 2003 and has continued to cooperate with the United States and the international community to combat terrorism and terrorist financing.
In November 2007, Egyptian cleric and al-Qa'ida (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 Muammar al-Qadhafi as an "enemy of Islam" and criticizing the 2003 decision to renounce WMD and terrorism. According to press accounts, LIFG maintains a limited presence in eastern Libya and has facilitated the transfer of foreign fighters to join insurgents fighting U.S.-led forces in Iraq.
On August 14, Libya and the United States signed a comprehensive claims settlement agreement to provide compensation to claimants in both countries who allege the other country’s responsibility in incidents causing injury or death. Included in the settlement agreement are claims stemming from the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103 in Lockerbie, Scotland, and the 1986 bombing of the La Belle nightclub in Berlin. On October 31, the Secretary of State certified to Congress that settlement funds had been received, paving the way for the confirmation of a U.S. Ambassador to Tripoli and the expansion of normalized relations.
Morocco pursued a comprehensive counterterrorism approach that emphasized vigilant security measures, including international cooperation, and counter-radicalization policies. Characteristics of groups disrupted by Moroccan authorities supported previous analysis that Morocco’s threat of terrorist attack continued to stem from the existence of numerous small "grassroots" extremist groups. These groups, sometimes referred to collectively as adherents to Moroccan Salafia Jihadia ideology4, remained isolated from one another, small in size (less than 50 individuals each), and tactically limited. The existence of these relatively small groups pointed to the need for continued vigilance, but the Government of Morocco’s counterterrorism efforts have done a good job of minimizing the threat.
There were reports of considerable numbers of Moroccans going to northern Mali and Algeria to receive training from AQIM elements with some returning to Morocco and others traveling to Iraq to conduct terrorist attacks. Although AQIM has been unable to support a successful terrorist attack in Morocco to date, Moroccan authorities remained concerned about the “inspiration” and knowledge transfer that AQIM may have provided to Moroccan extremists. AQIM repeatedly tried to incite Moroccans to commit violence against their government through website propaganda. The government remained concerned about numbers of veteran Moroccan jihadists returning from Iraq to propagate and conduct terrorist attacks at home. While overall numbers of Moroccans fighting in Iraq were difficult to confirm, some press reporting put the number at several hundred. A further cause of concern is Moroccans who were radicalized during their stays in Western Europe, such as those connected with the 2004 Madrid train bombings.
The Moroccan government pursued a comprehensive counterterrorism approach that, building on popular rejection of terrorism, emphasizes neutralizing existing terrorist cells through traditional law enforcement and preemptive security measures, and prevented terrorist recruitment through comprehensive counter-radicalization policies. Morocco aggressively targeted and dismantled terrorist cells within the Kingdom by leveraging policing techniques, coordinating and focusing the security services, and expanding and bolstering regional partnerships. These efforts resulted in the neutralization of numerous Salafi Jihadi-inspired terrorist groups, the most prominent were:
In addition to traditional security measures, Morocco's King Mohammed VI has promoted significant efforts to reduce extremism and dissuade individuals from becoming radicalized. Ordinary citizens providing tips to Moroccan security authorities have been instrumental in detecting many terrorist groups in Morocco, according to Interior Ministry sources.
After the 2003 Casablanca bombings, Morocco steadily increased attention to and focused on upgrading places of worship, modernization of the teaching of Islam, and strengthening the Ministry of Endowments and Islamic Affairs. In September 2008, Sheikh Mohamed Ben Abderrahman Al Maghraoui issued a highly inflammatory fatwa (a religious opinion on Islamic law issued by an Islamic scholar) that asserted the validity of marriage of girls, as young as nine years old. Moroccan authorities responded aggressively by discrediting the radical Sheikh and closing down approximately 60 Koranic schools under his supervision, and initiating an official inquiry into his competence. In addition, the public prosecutor's office initiated a criminal case against him for encouraging pedophilia. The Council of Ulamas, Morocco’s highest religious body, was charged by the King, who is its leader, to "combat the hoaxes peddled by proponents of extremism," and to ensure the safeguarding of Morocco’s tolerant Sunni Islam identity.
After this event and in a speech to the Higher Council of Ulamas in late September, the King announced his "proximity strategy," calling for the rehabilitation of 3,180 mosques, the training of 33,000 imams, and increasing the number of regional Ulama councils from 30 to 70 across Morocco, to help propagate a culture of religious tolerance and confront extremism. The pioneering experiment, begun in 2007, of training and using women as spiritual guides continued.
The Government of Morocco, and frequently the King himself, regularly and strongly condemned terrorist acts, wherever they occurred. The King has been particularly outspoken in the wake of attacks in neighboring Algeria, in expressions of sympathy for and solidarity with foreign governments and the victims.
The perceived injustice faced by the Palestinian people was cited by Moroccan officials as the single greatest radicalizing element among Moroccan extremists. Although the Moroccan Parliament remained in need of strengthening and reform, it nonetheless provided a forum for airing moderate Islamist-inspired views in a political setting, offering a counter-example to extremist rhetoric.
During the year, the Moroccan government continued to implement internal reforms aimed at ameliorating the socio-economic factors that terrorists exploit. The National Initiative for Human Development, launched by the King in 2005, is a $1.2 billion program designed to generate employment, combat poverty, and improve infrastructure, with a special focus on rural areas.
In 2008, Morocco implemented elements of a comprehensive anti-money laundering bill passed in May 2007 that provided the legal basis for the monitoring, investigation, and prosecution of illegal financial activities. The new laws allow for the freezing of suspicious accounts, permit the prosecution of terrorist finance related crimes, and call for the establishment of a Financial Intelligence Unit. U.S. and EU programs are providing Moroccan police, customs, central bank, and government financial officials with training to recognize money laundering methodologies. Morocco has a relatively effective system for disseminating U.S. government and UN Security Council Resolution terrorist freeze lists to its financial sector and legal authorities. Morocco has frozen some terrorist-related accounts.
The Government of Morocco made firm public commitments that the struggle against terrorism would not be used to deprive individuals of their rights and emphasized adherence to human rights standards and increased law enforcement transparency as part of its approach. Non-governmental organizations were granted unprecedented access to prisons where individuals convicted of terrorism-related crimes were held. Terrorist suspects and convicts were generally accorded rights and due process of law.
Moroccan laws were effective in leading to numerous convictions and the upholding of convictions of multiple terrorism-related cases:
- In February 2008, Moroccan authorities arrested a 36-person strong terrorist network in the cities of Nador, Rabat, Marakesh, and Casablanca. In addition to attack plotting against Moroccan and Western targets, group leader and de facto double-agent Moroccan-Belgium Abdelkader Belliraj, now in Moroccan custody, was suspected of participating in a bank robbery and half a dozen assassinations in Europe and smuggling arms into Morocco.
- In July, security services arrested, in various cities, 35 members of a terrorist network specializing in the recruitment of volunteers for Iraq.
- In August, another 15-person network calling itself Fath al-Andalus was reportedly disbanded in Laayoune, Western Sahara, and various cities in Morocco. The group was allegedly planning bombing attacks against UN peacekeeping forces in Western Sahara and tourists sites in Morocco.
- In December, authorities reportedly arrested five members of a terrorist cell in the northeastern Moroccan city of Berkane, along with nine other group members in other cities, who were allegedly preparing to rob banks in order to acquire arms for terrorist acts.
- In January, 50 defendants in the sensational 2007 Ansar al-Mehdi terrorist conspiracy trial were convicted and sentenced to prison. Alleged mastermind Hassan al-Khattab received a 25-year sentence. Forty-nine others, including four women and several members of the security forces, received sentences of two to 10 years.
- In November, the appeals court in Sale upheld the life sentence handed down last October of would-be suicide bomber Hicham Doukkali, who was wounded in August 2007 when his booby-trapped butane canister exploded in the central city of Meknes.
- In June, a court convicted 29 men belonging to a terrorist group known as the "Tetouan Cell," after its northern Moroccan town of origin, for plotting terrorist attacks.
- An appeals court also upheld the prison sentences, ranging from two to six years, of members of the terrorist group "Jamaat al Mouslimoun al Joudoud," who were arrested in 2005 on terrorism-related charges.
In April, following the mass escape in March of eight Salafist prisoners, and concerned the Moroccan prisons were serving as a place of radical fundamentalist networking and plotting, the government created a new ministerial-level Directorate General of Prison Affairs, separate from the Ministry of Justice. By the end of the year, all but one of the escapees had been recaptured. One was arrested in and returned from Algeria, according to the press.
In mid-November, the government announced the authorization of a $27.5 million emergency program, on top of an existing $81.5 million investment budget, designed to improve prison conditions and alleviate overcrowding. In addition to providing for the construction of six new penitentiaries, the program dedicated funds toward the government strategy of making new and existing penitentiaries spaces for reeducation and social reintegration into society. In November, Moroccan law enforcement entities initiated an unprecedented series of meetings with Salafist detainees with the goal of decreasing prison conflicts and violent recidivism, and improving prisoner treatment.
Another key to Morocco’s counterterrorism efforts has been its emphasis on international cooperation. 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. The Government of Morocco accepted returnees from the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay and prosecuted them under Moroccan law. In mid-November, for example, a Moroccan appeals court sentenced former Guantanamo detainee Said Boujaidia to 10 years in prison on charges of conspiracy, sabotage, financing, and participating in a criminal gang.
Morocco has also forged solid cooperative relationships with European and African partners by sharing information and conducting joint operations. Morocco is considered a Mediterranean Partner of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Morocco worked closely with African partners such as Mauritania and Senegal and is striving to improve its relationship with Algeria, a dynamic sometimes complicated by political differences. The government used army and Ministry of Interior paramilitary forces to secure its borders as best it could but faced resource constraints and a vast border area. The Moroccan government removed and prosecuted several corrupt border officers suspected this year of accepting bribes to allow AQIM members to infiltrate Morocco, according to reports.
In the wake of an AQIM attack that killed 12 Mauritanian soldiers in the region of Tourine in mid-September, the Government of Morocco sent military advisors to Mauritania to provide the government with training and advice on the protection of military bases and patrolling techniques.
Oman promoted religious moderation and tolerance and proactively implemented counterterrorism strategies and cooperated with neighboring countries to prevent terrorists from entering or moving freely throughout the Arabian Peninsula. To better coordinate efforts to prevent terrorist-related activities, the government began the formation of a national terrorism operations and analysis center. While Oman is not a major financial center and did not have a significant money laundering problem, its financial system remained vulnerable to criminal activity. The government established a Financial Intelligence Unit attached to the Directorate of Financial Crimes of the Royal Oman Police and continued to work towards finalizing a draft counterterrorism financing law. In September, a Ministerial Decree strengthened the Oman Program for Anti-Money Laundering (by requiring certain non-banking establishments and companies to verify the identity of their clients and document financial transactions.
Oman's long coastline and relatively porous borders remained vulnerable to illegal transit by migrant workers, smugglers, human trafficking victims, terrorists, and individuals involved in the traffic and sale of illegal drugs. The government was concerned about 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 (UAE). The majority of the illegal immigrants apprehended were from Pakistan and Afghanistan. Somalis continued to attempt to cross the border into Oman from Yemen. The Omani government actively sought training and equipment through the U.S. and British military to support its efforts to control its land and maritime borders. U.S. military assistance was used to bolster coastal patrol operations and make Oman's remote inland borders with Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE less porous and easier to observe.
While counterterrorism cooperation between Qatar and the United States remained positive, the United States continued to strive for increased cooperation with the Qatari government on information sharing.
There has not been a terrorist attack in Qatar since the March 19, 2005, suicide vehicle-borne improvised explosive device 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 the status of their oversight and humanitarian activities.
Cooperation with U.S. authorities on counterterrorist finance continued to develop. Qatar's Financial Information Unit (FIU) resides in the Qatar Central Bank. Local banks worked with the Central Bank and the FIU on counterterrorist finance and anti-money laundering issues, and bank officials attended U.S.-sponsored conferences.
Qatar was one of two countries in the Gulf with an Attorney General independent of the Ministry of Interior or Ministry of Justice, and equivalent to a ministerial level position. The Attorney General independently controlled and oversaw public prosecutions and appointed attorneys within the Public Prosecutors Office.
The USG has provided law enforcement and counterterrorism training under various programs, including the Antiterrorism Assistance (ATA) program. The Ministry of Interior and State Security each had an officer graduate from the FBI National Academy in 2008. In addition, the FBI provided counterterrorism and investigative training to larger groups both in Qatar and the United States. 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 Saudi government continued to build its counterterrorism capacity and efforts to counter extremist ideology. In the first six months of the year, the Ministry of Interior arrested 701 militants who had allegedly been planning to attack oil fields and other vital installations. In large scale sweeps, the Kingdom confiscated weapons, ammunition, sophisticated electronics equipment, and money. As of late summer, 520 of these suspects were still being held, awaiting trial on terrorism charges. The Saudis are developing a facilities security force following an unsuccessful attack in 2006 against one of the world’s largest oil processing plants in the Eastern Province.
The Government of Saudi Arabia has announced terrorism trials for 991 individuals indicted on various terrorism-related charges including terrorist finance. After deciding to not establish a specific court for terrorist trials, the Ministry of Interior determined that trials will be conducted in a Sharia court, following established court procedures, as part of a strategy to confront terrorist ideologies within the existing system. The militants were divided into two groups: those who were directly involved in attacks and those who provided refuge, transportation, and funds. The General Court of Riyadh set up a 10-member bench to look into the initial case of 70 terrorist suspects, which included Saudis and foreigners. The court sessions will be restricted to the judges, lawyers, and the accused, which has led to criticism over the lack of transparency.
The Saudi government continued to make strides in its public counterterrorism programs. In July, the Ministry of Interior issued a statement demanding citizens remain vigilant to extremist activities, even within their own families, and report “deviant” behavior. In response, the Grand Mufti, Shayh Abd-al-Aziz Al al-Shaykh, issued a statement in support of the state’s position on terrorism and warned citizens to be smart and not fall for the lies and deception of these people [terrorists] who are pretending to be good.
In an effort to combat terrorist ideologies, the Ministry of the Interior announced the arrest of five individuals, two of whom were not Saudi, for disseminating terrorist propaganda on Internet sites in August. The five individuals were charged with seeking to recruit young people to AQ thought and mobilize them to action in Saudi Arabia or abroad. From a technical standpoint, the Ministry noted that the websites were registered outside of Saudi Arabia and that the individuals owning the websites made frequent changes to the sites in a way that made it difficult for the Saudi government to shut down.
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 article postings on the Internet. In 2007, the Kingdom issued identification cards to imams and religious leaders to curb instances of unauthorized persons delivering Friday sermons. In 2008, the government continued to monitor the licensed imams and looked for instances of “illegal sermons.”
Saudi Arabia continued to make progress in combating money laundering and terrorism finance. The Saudi Capital Authority Market stressed that financial brokerage companies be bound to the same law combating money laundering and terrorism financing when designing swap agreements with foreign investors. Banks must report suspicious transactions to the Financial Investigations Unit (FIU), which is part of the Ministry of Interior, and provide the Saudi Arabia Monetary Agency’s Department of Banking Inspection and the Anti-Money Laundering Unit with a copy of the report.
In September, the Ministry of Social Affairs announced the enforcement of rules and regulations on charitable organizations aimed at preventing terrorist finance. During Ramadan in September, the Ministry of Islamic Affairs tightened controls on charitable contributions. This was in response to a 2007 incident, where seven terrorist cells were apprehended after raising 20 million Saudi Riyals from donors who thought the money was for legitimate charitable uses. The Government has stated its intent to establish a Charities Commission to ensure rigorous implementation of existing terrorist financing regulations.
The United States continued to urge the Government of Saudi Arabia to pursue and prosecute terrorist financiers more vigorously. Last year’s new cash courier regulations resulted in several individuals being investigated.
Since the inception of the government-run rehabilitation program for those with extremist ideologies, a number of rehabilitated extremists have been reintegrated into Saudi society. The program incorporates scholars, intellectuals, and psychologists with the goal of helping participants “overcome” their extremist viewpoints. The programs generally run for three to six months, and accommodate 20 individuals at a time. According to a Ministry of Interior study, foreign fighters were not typically Sharia experts and fell victim to the extremist cause by exposure to video, film, and other material that urged them to “sympathize” with people in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The Government of Tunisia continued to place a high priority on combating extremism and terrorism. In addition to using security and law enforcement measures, the Tunisian government pursued a variety of economic and social programs aimed at addressing the underlying challenges that can contribute to the spread of extremism. 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.
By carefully monitoring the activities of Tunisian extremists, both in Tunisia and abroad, Tunisian law enforcement organizations challenged the ability of terrorists to organize internally. Since the passage of Tunisia's 2003 Terrorism Law, approximately 1,000 Tunisians have been detained, charged, and/or convicted on terrorism-related charges. In 2008, the Tunisian judiciary prosecuted a steady stream of such cases:
- On February 21, the Tunis Court of Appeals upheld guilty verdicts but reduced the sentences for eight of the 30 Tunisians convicted in December 2007 of involvement in the December 2006/January 2007 terrorist plot known as the "Soliman" case, in which a terrorist cell called Assad Ibn Fourat’s Army had allegedly targeted domestic and foreign (including U.S. and UK) interests in Tunisia.
- On July 12, the Tunis Court of First Instance convicted five Tunisians, including two security officials, of various terrorism-related charges.
- In two separate mid-August trials, 19 Tunisians were convicted on separate terrorist-related charges.
On March 10, al-Qa'ida in the Islamic Maghreb claimed responsibility for kidnapping two Austrian tourists along the Tunisia-Algeria border. The hostages were released in Mali on October 31, reportedly in exchange for a ransom of USD 2.8 million.
Tunisian extremists were involved in terrorist activities abroad, including in France, Italy, Iraq, and Lebanon. Domestically, the government worked to improve security procedures at borders and airports. A number of Tunisians suspected of involvement in terrorist incidents abroad were also repatriated and subsequently charged with, or convicted, of terrorist activities.
United Arab Emirates
The Government of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) repeatedly condemned terrorist acts in Iraq, Lebanon, Pakistan, 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 monitored compliance. The UAE worked to keep its education system free of radical influences and emphasized social tolerance and moderation.
The Container Security Initiative (CSI), which became operational at Port Rashid and Jebel Ali Port in the Emirate of Dubai in 2005, has three U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers co-located with the Dubai Customs Intelligence Unit at Port Rashid. On average, CSI reviewed approximately 250 bills of lading each week, resulting in about 20 non-intrusive inspections of U.S.-bound containers; examinations were conducted jointly with Dubai Customs officers, who shared information on trans-shipments from high risk areas, including those originating in Iran.
The UAE has a cyber-crime law criminalizing the use of the Internet by 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. 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 continued efforts to strengthen its institutional capabilities to combat terrorist financing, but challenges remain. The 2008 MENA-FATF (Middle East North Africa Financial Action Task Force) Mutual Evaluation Report for the UAE, for example, made a recommendation to amend the federal anti-money laundering law and increase dedicated resources available to the Central Bank's Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU). Although the UAE has taken important steps to address hawala remittances, further vigilance is required.
The UAE Central Bank provided training programs to financial institutions on money laundering and terrorist financing. The United States has encouraged the UAE to implement additional measures to combat Bulk Cash Smuggling (BCS), in particular from countries at higher risk of terrorist finance activity. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has provided Dubai Customs with BCS training for airport interdiction of contraband currency; joint BCS operations have been proposed. The Department of Justice also provided BCS training for prosecutors in Dubai.
The Central Bank initiated memoranda of understanding with regional FIUs, and performed anti-money laundering training both locally and regionally. The Central Bank investigated financial transactions and froze accounts in response to internal investigations.
The security situation in Yemen continued to deteriorate during 2008 and was marked by a series of attacks against both Western and Yemeni interests, culminating in the September 17 suicide bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa that killed 18. This strategy of constant offense continued despite highly publicized raids on suspected terrorist cells by Yemeni security forces. Recruitment for al-Qa’ida in Yemen (AQY) remained strong, and the use of vehicle borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs) and suicide vests indicated a high level of training, coordination, and sophistication by Yemen’s terrorist leadership. Conversely, the government’s response to the terrorist threat was intermittent and its ability to pursue and prosecute suspected terrorists remained weak due to a number of shortcomings, including stalled draft counterterrorism legislation. The government’s focus on the al-Houthi rebellion in the Sada’a governorate in the North of the country and internal security concerns distracted its forces from focusing on counterterrorism activities.
The largest success for Yemen’s security forces in 2008 was an August raid on an AQY cell in Tarim, in the governorate of Hadramaut. Hamza al-Qaiti was killed along with four other suspected militants. Large numbers of weapons, devices to build car bombs, and explosives, including mortars that were similar to those used in the March attack on the U.S. Embassy, were uncovered.
In spite of this, the raid did little to deter or disrupt other AQY cells. One month after the August raid, at least seven assailants dressed in Yemeni security-service uniforms attacked the U.S. Embassy using two VBIEDs and suicide vests. While unable to gain access to the Embassy itself, the attack was sophisticated and well-coordinated. Final tallies brought the death toll to 18, including one American.
A formerly unknown group calling itself Islamic Jihad in Yemen immediately claimed responsibility for the attack. The group stated the attack was motivated by the August 11 raid in Tarim, among other reasons. Initially the Yemeni government allowed an FBI investigative team full access to evidence from the attack, but cooperation has since waned. Both Yemeni and U.S. officials believe that Islamic Jihad is AQ affiliated. AQY later claimed responsibility for the attack in an online extremist magazine.
In addition to the September 17 assault, there were over half a dozen terrorist attacks in 2008:
- In January, AQY claimed responsibility for the shooting deaths of two Belgian tourists and two Yemeni drivers in the southern governorate of Hadramaut.
- On March 18, four mortars fell short of the U.S. Embassy, injuring dozens at an adjacent girls’ school.
- On April 6, three mortars hit residential complex housing western workers, including several U.S. Embassy employees in Sanaa, prompting the ordered departure of non-essential U.S. Embassy staff and family members.
- On April 30, two mortars hit the Customs Administration parking lot, causing a large explosion just adjacent to the Italian Embassy, believed by many to have been the intended target.
- In May, an AQY-affiliated group claimed that it fired a mortar onto the grounds of the presidential palace in Sanaa, but no official statement was released acknowledging the incident.
- In July, AQY claimed responsibility for a suicide car bomb attack of a central security forces compound in Hadramaut that killed eight people.
Prosecuting terrorists remained a large hurdle for Yemeni courts, largely because current law, as applied to counterterrorism and the financing of terrorism, remained weak. A working group drafted new counterterrorism legislation that was sent to a committee for review, where it remained at year’s end.
The absence of effective counterterrorism legislation that criminalized the activities of those engaged in planning, facilitating, or carrying out acts of terrorism, both in Yemen and abroad, contributed to Yemen’s appeal as safe haven and potential base of offensive operations for terrorists. For this reason, the government was forced to apply other available laws, including fraudulent document charges, to thwart foreign fighters going to Iraq.
The Government of Yemen continued to run its surrender program for wanted terrorists that it believes it cannot apprehend. The program provides lenient requirements for completion of convictions to those who surrender. In 2008, however, 17 prior program participants were returned to custody for recidivism. In March, convicted terrorist and February 2006 prison escapee Jaber al-Banna walked into a Yemeni security court and posted bond. His sentence was later reduced from 10 to five years, supposedly for handing himself in to the authorities. The decision will need to be ratified by the Yemeni Supreme Court before it is implemented, and it remained unclear whether the time al-Banna had already served, including time he spent outside prison once he escaped, will count against the five-year sentence. Jaber al-Banna is wanted by the United States for providing material support to a terrorist organization and conspiring to provide support to AQ. Al-Banna is on the FBI’s most wanted list, but the Yemeni constitution precludes extradition of Yemeni citizens, even though he also has American citizenship.
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.
2 In 2005, Kuwait's Ministry of Awqaf (religious endowments) and Islamic Affairs launched the World Moderation Center, an initiative to spread moderation and to combat extremism. In 2006, 86 Islamic Education supervisors took the same 45-day training, and in 2007, 283 senior Islamic Education teachers from the Ministry of Education and 58 instructors at the Religious Education College took the course.
3 Ain al Hilweh internal security relies largely on Palestinian group Fatah forces. Cooperation among the Palestinians and the government led to the establishment in 2005 of a Palestinian-Lebanese Dialogue Committee. The committee works towards establishing cooperative security arrangements and reducing the poor conditions in the camps that create a fertile environment for extremist ideology.
4 Salafi Jihadist ideology is a catch-all term used by Moroccan authorities to describe fundamentalist teachings originally emanating from the eastern Arab world.