Chapter 2. Country Reports: Middle East and North Africa Overview
“Terrorism is the enemy of all of us, and fighting it is a joint responsibility.”
--King Abdullah II, of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan
May 16, 2009
MIDDLE EAST AND NORTH AFRICA OVERVIEW
Most governments in the region cooperated with the United States in counterterrorism activities and undertook efforts to strengthen their counterterrorism capabilities. These efforts included participating in U.S.-sponsored Antiterrorism Assistance (ATA) programs and taking steps to bolster banking and legal regimes to combat terrorist financing. Many countries continued to provide some form of assistance to Coalition efforts to bring peace and stability to Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Iraqi government made significant strides in mitigating the threat posed by Sunni militant organizations, including al-Qa’ida in Iraq (AQI), though AQI maintained some capability to conduct large-scale attacks across the country. There was a sharp reduction in the number of security incidents throughout much of Iraq, including a decrease in civilian casualties, enemy attacks, and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) attacks in the last quarter of the year. National reconciliation remained the focus of the Iraqi government. The United States continued its focused efforts to reduce the threat posed by foreign fighters in Iraq. Iran and Syria, both state sponsors of terrorism, continued to play destabilizing roles in the region. [See Chapter 3, State Sponsors of Terrorism.]
Israel completed Operation Cast Lead in January, which aimed to eliminate rocket and mortar stockpiles in Gaza. While Israel remained vulnerable to rocket and mortar attacks launched from inside Gaza, it continued to be largely successful in confronting the threat posed by suicide bombers and rockets from the Palestinian territories. The Israeli government also began some security withdrawals from portions of the West Bank as security improved in those areas, allowing for some ceding of control to the Palestinian Authority.
In Lebanon, the Lebanese government was able to strengthen its presence across the country, including stronger monitoring in and around Palestinian refugee camps. Though Lebanon’s border with Syria remained a problem related to arms smuggling, the Lebanese government stated its commitment to strengthen border security. Sporadic rocket fire from southern Lebanon into Israel did occur throughout the year, with select Sunni militant groups responsible for most of the attacks. The U.S. government remained concerned with Hizballah’s stated intent to retaliate for the 2008 killing of Hizballah official Imad Mughniyeh. Hizballah continued its acquisition of smuggled arms, primarily via Iran and Syria, in violation of UN resolution 1701.
While Algeria experienced a marked decrease in high profile terrorist incidents, al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) continued to stage numerous attacks in suburban and rural areas, mostly targeting government installations. AQIM also remained focused on kidnapping and ransom-taking as a primary tactic. AQIM kidnapped three Spanish hostages in November in Mauritania, two Italian hostages in December in Mauritania, and one French hostage in December in Mali.
After the failed December 25 attempt on NWA Flight #253, in which Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who had trained in Yemen with al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), attempted to detonate explosives over the continental United States, the international community intensified its focus on Yemen’s security situation, which continued to deteriorate in 2009. The Yemeni government’s response to the terrorist threat improved dramatically in December, exemplified by the heightened pace of counterterrorism operations. Still, the government’s focus on other internal security challenges, including the “Sixth War” of the Houthi rebellion in the northern Sa’ada governorate, which began in August and had not ceased by year’s end, often diverted it from broader counterterrorism activities.
While Saudi Arabia’s efforts to address its internal terrorist threat remained strong and effective, it was affected by continued instability in Yemen and the involvement of some Saudi citizens in terrorist activity and training in Yemen. The Saudi government continued to confront extremist ideology through government-funded education programs, official pronouncements from prominent clerics, and government-organized rehabilitation programs.
The security situation in Algeria was marked by a decrease in the number of high-profile terrorist attacks throughout the country, although low-level terrorist activities continued in non-urban areas. The Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), which formally merged with al-Qa’ida (AQ) in 2006 and now calls itself al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), previously focused on targeting Algerian government interests and had been more averse to suicide attacks and civilian casualties. Some senior members of AQIM are former GIA insurgents. Although Algerian government interests remained the primary focus of AQIM, the group was forced to resort to kidnappings for ransom and expanded operations against westerners in the Sahel region. Algerian government counterterrorism operations, which included an increased security presence and the dismantling of support and recruitment networks, restrained AQIM’s capacity to conduct high-profile attacks, particularly in major Algerian cities.
There were no suicide bombings after March. The month of Ramadan, typically a period of frequent attacks, was quiet. Nevertheless, AQIM carried out lethal operations, using ambushes and roadside bombs against government and civilian targets, particularly in the Kabylie region east of Algiers, and increased its terrorist activities along the Algerian-Malian border.
The year was punctuated by several terrorist attacks:
- On March 9, two people were killed when an AQIM suicide bomber attacked a communal guard post in Tadmait, 70km east of Algiers.
- On June 17, AQIM killed 18 officers in an attack against a police vehicle escorting a group of Chinese workers to a site near Bordj Bou Arreridj, east of Algiers.
- On August 4, terrorists injured 25 people, including four police officers, using a vehicle borne IED at a police station in Tizi Ouzou, east of Algiers.
- On October 22, terrorists killed seven and wounded three Algerian security guards working for a Canadian water project.
Roadside bombs and ambushes persist despite the efforts of the security forces. 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 targeting by the police. The majority of attacks occurred in rural and suburban areas. Terrorists have been very careful to establish remote bases, communicate sparingly, and carry out meticulously-planned attacks. AQIM does not have significant popular support and is not assessed as strong enough to bring down the Algerian government. When security forces are in the countryside, approaching terrorists often stand out and are intercepted before they can successfully complete their attacks.
Following massive suicide attacks in 2007, AQIM has issued directives to avoid civilian deaths, and operations have been concentrated more on military, police, and foreign national targets. AQIM is likely seeking to disrupt business and commercial activity and probably uses such attacks to discourage foreign investment. The overall civilian death toll from terrorist attacks has declined in recent years. During the civil war that began in 1992 and had largely subsided by 2000, Algerian Islamic terrorists killed on average more than 10,000 people a year, with the majority being civilians.
In the past, Algerian security services have expressed concern about AQIM using propaganda based on the call to fight in Iraq as a hook to recruit young people, many of whom never made it to Iraq but were redirected towards joining local groups. In previous years, AQIM propaganda videos originating in Algeria were of amateur quality and poorly produced. This began to change dramatically in 2008. It was evident that AQIM placed a greater emphasis on improving the quality of the videos, and these videos and communiqués were orchestrated to attract Algerian youth to the AQIM “cause.” Several videos posted on the Internet, such as the series Shadows of the Sword and Apostate Hell, showed operations conducted against Algerian military and security targets that included preparations for the attacks and pre-briefings with the commanders that led the attacks. The ability to conduct an attack and claim responsibility via communiqué within hours demonstrated the importance AQIM placed in transmitting its message in an attempt to win the media war.
Criminal activities, such as holdups of motorists at roadblocks on remote roads (often disguised to look like security forces roadblocks), armed robbery, and the kidnapping of Algerian citizens remained critical to funding operations of the cash-strapped AQIM units located in northern Algeria. Besides relying heavily on kidnapping for ransom in Algeria and the Sahel, AQIM financed itself with extortion and smuggling in southern Algeria/northern Mali.
The counterterrorism successes of the Algerian services, combined with the public rejection of terrorism, appears to have reduced AQIM’s overall effectiveness during the past two years. In August, the Algerian government hosted a meeting of the military chiefs of staff from Mali, Libya, Mauritania, and Niger to develop a regional counterterrorism strategy and establish a regional command center in the southern city of Tamanrasset. Algeria led efforts in international fora to condemn payment of ransom to terrorists. During 2008, 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 major cities. The initiative was effective in reducing the impact of terrorist incidents and also demonstrated the Government of Algeria’s determination to fight terrorism.
Partly because of high unemployment among Algerian youth, AQIM has had some success replenishing its numbers after the arrest or death of an estimated 1,300 terrorists. Those remaining appeared to be more hard-line and resistant to the government’s amnesty offer. Despite continued AQIM attacks, the overall security situation remained greatly improved from the situation of the late 1990s. That said, the Algerian military and security forces must continuously adapt to AQIM’s changing tactics and accept that an organization that had primarily been a local threat now has a reach that extends to the surrounding region and has international ties. Algerian security and military forces remained capable of handling a prolonged effort against internal terrorist threats.
The Government of Bahrain monitored suspected international terrorist facilitators in Bahrain and worked closely and cooperatively with international partners throughout the year. Bahraini law enforcement succeeded in jailing a man suspected of providing financial support of terrorism. The government also foiled an alleged attack plot that was in the early stages of planning.
Adel Saleh, a Bahraini citizen arrested in June 2008, was convicted February 4, 2009 on charges of maintaining links to al-Qa’ida (AQ) and financing terrorism. According to testimony offered during his trial, Saleh traveled to Iran three times to deliver approximately US$ 70,000 to AQ operatives. He received a one-year sentence with credit for time served since his arrest. Prosecutors appealed, seeking a longer sentence, but the appeal process ended when Saleh, along with 177 other prisoners and detainees, was pardoned by King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa on April 11. Two other defendants in the same case who were tried in absentia were convicted on similar charges and sentenced to five years’ imprisonment. They were not pardoned.
Security forces monitored the activities of two Bahraini citizens and arrested them on April 26. During the arrest, the authorities discovered automatic weapons, ammunition, a pistol, hunting knives, and a sword, along with evidence indicating the accused were in the early stages of planning an attack against U.S. naval interests. Prosecutors charged the men, one of whom was an employee of the Ministry of Interior Customs Directorate, with joining an international terrorist organization, plotting attacks in Bahrain and elsewhere in the Gulf, and various weapons charges. Their trial began on June 30 and continued through the end of the year.
On December 16, Bahrain deployed a company of Special Security Forces to southern Afghanistan in support of Coalition operations in Helmand province.
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 worked with the U.S. Department of the Treasury to host a conference on the regulation of Islamic charities. Bahrain also hosted the Middle East and North Africa Financial Action Task Force secretariat, and has cooperated actively with the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism since formally endorsing the initiative in March 2008.
The Egyptian government’s active opposition to terrorism, and its effective intelligence and security services, made Egypt an unattractive locale for terrorist groups, however Egypt’s northern Sinai region was a base for the smuggling of arms and explosives into Gaza, and a transit point for Gazan Palestinians. Palestinian officials from HAMAS have also carried large amounts of cash across the border. 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. In April, Egypt announced it had discovered a 49-member Hizballah cell in Egypt that was supplying weapons to Gaza, and in July, government prosecutors said that 26 members of the cell had been detained and transferred to a State Security Court for trial.
In February, a bomb exploded in the popular Khan El Khalil market place, killing a young French tourist and wounding a number of other foreign tourists. In May, Egyptian authorities announced the arrest of seven suspects but later ordered their release. On May 10, a bomb exploded in a car parked near the Cathedral of the Virgin Mary in Cairo’s Zeitoun neighborhood. There were no injuries, minimal property damage, and no claims of responsibility.
In the past six years, Egypt has tightened its terrorist finance regulations in keeping with relevant UN Security Council Resolutions. In 2008, Egypt strengthened its anti-money laundering legislation by specifically adding terrorism financing to the list of punishable crimes. Egypt regularly informed its own financial institutions of any individuals or entities that are designated by any of the UN sanctions committees.
Egypt maintained strengthened security measures in the Suez Canal and continued to institute more stringent port security.
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. In terms of evidence for counterterrorism cases in the United States., Egypt’s judicial system cooperated within the framework of the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty.
Many of the Egyptian president’s far-reaching counterterrorism powers come from the country’s Emergency Law, which has been in force since 1981 and was renewed by Parliament for two years in June 2008. 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 submitted or approved by Egypt’s Parliament.
Iraq remained a committed partner in counterterrorism efforts. As a result of the U.S.-Iraq Security Agreement, Iraqi security forces assumed primary responsibility for the security and stability of Iraq, with support from Multi-National Forces-Iraq. Together, U.S. and Iraqi security forces continued to make progress in combating al-Qa’ida in Iraq (AQI) and affiliated Sunni terrorist organizations, as well as Shiite militia elements engaged in terrorism. A significant reduction in the number of security incidents throughout much of Iraq, beginning in the last half of 2007, continued through 2009, with a steady downward trend in numbers of civilian casualties, enemy attacks, and improvised explosive device (IED) attacks.
Still, terrorist organizations and insurgent groups continued their attacks on Iraqi security forces, civilians, and government officials using IEDs, including vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs), and suicide bombers. Although a scattering of small scale attacks continued to hamper the country’s progress toward broad-based security, terrorist elements focused their efforts on high-profile and deadly attacks in Baghdad, as demonstrated by attacks on August 19, October 25, and December 8. The three sets of attacks targeted Iraqi government buildings with simultaneous, multiple suicide and/or remote-detonated VBIEDs in Baghdad. While AQI claimed responsibility for the violence, some Iraqi government officials publicly blamed Syrian-based individuals with alleged ties to the former Baath Party.
U.S. forces conducted full spectrum operations with the Iraqi forces to defeat the evolving threats employed by AQI. Their efforts to defeat AQI cells, in addition to an increasingly violence-weary Iraqi public, forced AQI elements to consolidate in Ninewa and Diyala provinces. Despite being limited to smaller bases of operation within Iraq, AQI retained networks in and around Baghdad and in eastern Anbar. In Ninewa, U.S. and Iraqi security forces focused efforts against AQI and other Sunni extremists through operations targeting warranted individuals and judicial detentions of senior leaders, and targeted the terrorists’ operational support systems. AQI, whose apparent goal in 2009 was to discredit the Iraqi government and erode its security and governance capabilities, targeted primarily the Iraqi security forces, government infrastructure, Sons of Iraq (SOI) groups, and tribal awakening movement members. Despite the improved security environment, AQI, fueled in part by former detainees, still possessed the capacity to launch high-profile attacks against Iraqi civilians and infrastructure.
In addition to reducing the strength of AQI and Sunni extremists, Iraq made progress in containing other terrorist groups with differing motives, such as Jaysh Rijal al-Tariqah al-Naqshabandiyah (a Sunni nationalist insurgent group with links to the former Baath Party that advocates the removal of occupation forces from Iraq) and Kata’ib Hizballah (a Shia militant group with ideological ties to the militant wing of Hizballah).
The flow of foreign terrorists from North Africa and other Middle Eastern countries greatly diminished, although they continued to enter Iraq, predominantly through Syria. AQI and its Sunni extremist partners mainly used Iraqi nationals, including some females, as suicide bombers. Terrorist groups receiving weapons and training from Iran continued to endanger the security and stability of Iraq; however, incidents of such violence were lower than in previous years. Many of the groups receiving ideological and logistical support from Iran were based in Shia communities in central and southern Iraq.
Iraq, Turkey, and the United States continued their formal trilateral security dialogue as one element of ongoing cooperative efforts to counter the 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 allowed a safe haven in Iraq. The trilateral discussions and other efforts continued through the end of the year, with a ministerial in late December.
The Iraqi government increased its efforts to garner regional and international support against terrorism. The Expanded Neighbors Process continued to provide a forum for Iraq and its neighbors to address Iraq’s political and security challenges in a regional context. In October, the Iraqi government sent representatives to Egypt to participate in the sixth Neighbors Process working group on border security, in which the group sought ways to enhance and integrate border security systems in preparation for Iraq’s 2010 parliamentary elections. Iraq also became a more active voice at the UN in 2009.
The Iraqi government pressed senior Iranian leaders to end support for lethal aid to Iraqi militias, and the Iraqi army carried out operations against extremists trained and equipped by Iran in Basra, Baghdad, and other areas. Although attacks by militants have sharply decreased, concerns remain that Iranian-supported Shia groups may be stockpiling weapons to influence the elections or the subsequent government formation. Shia militant groups’ ties to Iran remained a diplomatic and security challenge and a threat to Iraq’s long-term stability. National unity efforts to involve Iraqi Shia groups with Iranian ties, such as Asaib ahl al Haq (League of Righteousness) in the political process, decreased Shia-linked violence.
The Iraqi government faced internal and external pressure to relocate the Mujahadeen-e Khalq (MEK) organization, a U.S. designated foreign terrorist organization, from the group’s current location in eastern Iraq. The Iraqi government committed to act with respect for human rights in any efforts to relocate the group, and UN and international observers monitored the situation.
The Iraqi government attributed security gains to Iraqi security force capability and proficiency, as well as to increasing popular support for Iraqi government actions against AQI and other extremist groups. SOI and other groups provided U.S. 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 2008, and many more transitioned to non-security ministries throughout 2009. Sunni tribal awakening movements continued alliances with U.S. forces against AQI and extremist groups. AQI targeting of Christian and other minority churches, schools, and institutions indicated that AQI pursued strategies that required the least resources and yielded the highest payoff in the media and minds of Iraq’s citizens. Despite this, ethno-sectarian violence continued to decline.
On June 30, U.S. combat troops pulled out of cities, villages, and localities, in accordance with the U.S.-Iraq Security Agreement, and after that conducted all kinetic operations in partnership with Iraqi security forces. The focus of U.S. operations moved from urban to rural areas where international support will remain critical for the Iraqi government to build its capacity to fight terrorist organizations. All U.S. military operations are conducted with the agreement of and in partnership with Iraqi authorities.
Iraq’s intelligence services continued to improve in both competency and confidence but will require ongoing support and legislative authority before they will be able to adequately identify and respond to internal and external terrorist threats.
Israel, West Bank, and Gaza
Four Israeli citizens were killed in three separate terrorist attacks during the year, down from 13 attacks with 27 Israeli casualties in 2008. Rocket and mortar fire emanating from the Gaza Strip was the predominant form of attack. In response to an escalation of such attacks in 2008, Israeli forces conducted Operation Cast Lead from December 2008 to January 2009 to root out terrorist organizations’ stockpiles of rockets and mortars in Gaza. The IAF launched airstrikes on HAMAS security installations, personnel, and other facilities, as well as rocket and mortar launch teams. On January 3, Israeli forces launched a ground invasion. Hostilities between Israeli forces and HAMAS militants continued through January 18, and the Israeli withdrawal of troops was completed on January 21. Israeli officials believed Operation Cast Lead helped achieve a level of deterrence, as rocket and mortar attacks from Gaza dropped precipitously following the conflict. Since January 2009, HAMAS has actively enforced a unilateral cease-fire with Israel, stopping rocket attacks, arresting militants firing on Israel, and negotiating agreements with the other factions to prevent violence. However, Israeli officials believed that Gaza-based terrorist organizations have used this relatively quiet period to rearm and reorganize in preparation for future conflict. There were no incidents of Palestinian suicide bombing.
In addition to Operation Cast Lead, Israel responded to terrorist threats with targeted operations directed at terrorist leaders, infrastructure, and activities such as rocket launching activities such as indirect fire into Israel. The Israel Defense Force (IDF), the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet), and Palestinian Authority Security Services continued to conduct roundups and other military operations in the West Bank designed to increase pressure on terrorist organizations and their supporters. Construction of an extensive security barrier in the West Bank and Jerusalem continued in some areas. Israeli officials believed the security barrier has played an important role in making terrorist attacks more difficult to undertake. In some areas in the West Bank, such as Jenin and around Nablus, Israeli authorities eased curfews and reduced incursions to mitigate effects on the local population while maintaining a strong counterterrorism presence. Overall, Israeli security services reduced movement restrictions in the West Bank.
Given the drop in rocket/mortar fire and the absence of suicide bombing attacks, Israel security forces focused on a new trend in terrorist attacks that they dubbed “the lone terrorist.” They defined “lone terrorist” incidents as those carried out by individuals typically lacking criminal records who have not previously communicated with or received support from terrorist organizations. The motivations behind these types of attacks varied from personal to political. These individuals were harder to identify and deter prior to committing attacks.
Terrorist attacks that resulted in injuries and Israeli responses included:
- On March 5, a Palestinian driving a bulldozer rammed into a police car and a bus in Jerusalem, injuring two Israeli police officers. Israeli police and a taxi driver shot and killed the assailant.
- On March 15, two police officers were killed in a shooting attack near Massua in the northern Jordan Valley. No suspects were identified in the attack. The “Imad Mughniyeh Group” claimed responsibility.
- On April 2, a Palestinian with an axe killed a 13-year old Israeli and seriously wounded a seven-year-old Israeli in the West Bank settlement of Bat Ayin. The assailant was later arrested. Islamic Jihad and the Martyrs of Imad Mughniyeh both claimed responsibility for the attack.
- On April 17, a Palestinian man infiltrated the Beit Hagai settlement and injured a member of the settlement’s emergency squad with a knife. The infiltrator was shot and killed by another member of the emergency squad.
- On May 9, a 56-year old taxi driver was kidnapped and strangled to death by three Palestinians near Gan Yavne. The assailants were arrested and claimed they committed the murder as vengeance for the death of an Islamic Jihad operative killed by the IDF in 2007.
- On December 24, Rabbi Meir Avshalom Chai was killed in a drive-by shooting while driving his own vehicle near the town of Nablus. The next day, the General Security Service and the IDF killed three terrorists reportedly responsible for Chai’s death. The three individuals were previously held on terrorism charges in Israeli prisons.
Throughout the year Israel’s security services were able to keep terrorist planners and operators off balance and reported multiple foiled attempts:
- On March 21, a 40-kilogram explosive device concealed in the trunk of a car parked outside a shopping mall in Haifa was activated but failed to detonate. Israel police defused the bomb; the previously unknown Galilee Free Brigades claimed responsibility.
- On June 16, 10 terrorists from Gaza staged a failed assault at the Karni crossing. At least four terrorists and several horses loaded with explosives were killed in the ensuing firefight with the IDF. Video footage released by the Jund Ansar Allah (“Soldiers Loyal to Allah”) cell following the attack detailed preparations for the attack.
- On November 26, IDF reservists ordered an individual approaching the Israeli border from Egypt near Eilat to stop. The individual fled the scene after dropping his bag containing a 15 kilogram explosive device.
- On December 9, Israel border guards arrested a Palestinian attempting to carry six pipe bombs through the Qalandiya checkpoint leading into Jerusalem from the West Bank.
- On December 24, Israeli police located and safely disarmed nine pipe bombs hidden near a bus station at the Ginaton Junction of Routes 443 and 40.
Israel security services assessed that the use of rockets and mortars reflected recognition by Palestinian terrorist groups that such indirect fire attacks stood the best chances of success, especially in light of the stringent physical security measures that limited the movement of potential suicide bombers into Green Line Israel.
Israel’s security establishment remained concerned about the terrorist threat posed in the north by Hizballah and its Iranian and Syrian backers. Israeli security officials argued that Iran, primarily through the efforts of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), has established a sophisticated arms smuggling network from Iran through Syria to Hizballah in Lebanon. Israeli security officials said Hizballah continued to provide support to select Palestinian groups to augment their capacity to conduct attacks against Israel.
Israeli politicians and security officials pointed to Hizballah’s efforts to rebuild and re-arm following the 2006 conflict against the group as evidence that it remained a threat to Israel; these officials estimated that Hizballah possessed an arsenal of over 40,000 short- and medium-range rockets. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu said on several occasions that Israel will hold the government of Lebanon accountable for any attack on Israel from Lebanon.
Israeli officials continued to claim that Hizballah has moved arms south of the Litani River in violation of UN resolution 1701 and pointed to several incidents to support this assertion:
- On July 14, between 1,000 and 1,550 kilograms of explosives detonated in the Shiite village of Khirbit Salim. Hizballah blocked United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) access to the scene, preventing further inspection.
- On September 11, Palestinian terrorists claimed responsibility for firing two Katyusha rockets from southern Lebanon into northern Israel near Nahariya.
- On October 27, a Katyusha rocket was fired into northern Israel near Kirya Shmona. IDF forces responded by firing artillery shells at the source of the rocket attack.
Despite these few security incidents, Israel’s northern border remained relatively quiet during the course of the year. The IDF continued a robust exercise schedule and military presence in the Golan Heights. In April, Israeli media outlets reported that Egyptian security services foiled a Hizballah cell’s plot to carry out terrorist attacks against Israeli tourists in Sinai.
HAMAS and Hizballah continued to finance their terrorist activities against Israel primarily through state sponsors of terrorism Iran and Syria, and fundraising networks in the Arabian Peninsula, Europe, the Middle East, the United States, and to a lesser extent, elsewhere. Israel has adopted strong measures to prevent the financing of terrorism through its financial sector. Regulation and enforcement of Israel’s domestic financial industry is equivalent in scope and effect to other highly industrialized and developed nations. In 2009, several changes strengthened Israel’s anti-money laundering and combating of terrorism financing (AML/CT) legislation, and significantly increased the number of reported seizures related to financial crime by the Israeli National Police (INP).
The smuggling of commodities, arms, explosives, and funds in support of HAMAS through tunnels between the Gaza Strip and Egypt, and Hizballah along smuggling routes in Lebanon, continued to prove problematic. Israeli officials asserted that Egypt took steps to prevent arms smuggling from the Sinai into Gaza, but can do much more in terms of arresting, prosecuting, and incarcerating smugglers, destroying tunnel infrastructure, and providing socio-economic alternatives for Bedouin involved in smuggling activities.
The IAF carried out regular air strikes against smuggling tunnels along the Philadelphi Corridor. On November 4, the Israel Naval Forces detained the M/V Francop and seized the largest illicit arms shipment in Israeli history. According to Israeli officials, the M/V Francop left Bandar-Abbas, Iran, bound for Latakia, Syria.
A high-profile case raised awareness regarding settler violence and acts of terrorism. On October 7, Israeli security services arrested American-born settler Yaacov “Jack” Teitel in connection with a number of crimes and terrorist attacks over the past 12 years. Teitel was arrested for posting anti-homosexual flyers, and later confessed to a number of crimes, including the murder of two Palestinians in 1997. He also claimed responsibility for several attempted bombings, including sending a parcel bomb to a Messianic Jewish family in Ariel in which a 15-year old Israeli-American boy was injured, and placing a pipe-bomb that injured Israel Prize laureate and peace activist Professor Zeev Sternhell in September 2008.
While Israeli officials praised the Israeli security services’ arrest and investigation of Teitel, Israeli media outlets questioned whether the security services were sufficiently motivated or resourced to conduct investigations into settler violence. Israel security services believed Teitel acted alone, and not as part of a larger settler terrorist organization.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s November 25 decision to temporarily freeze settlement construction in the West Bank has the potential to incite further incidents of settler violence and terrorism. On December 11, a mosque in the West Bank village of Yasuf was set afire, apparently in response to the moratorium. Settlers repeatedly clashed with IDF and border security forces following Netanyahu’s decision. Israeli media reports on a leaked IDF plan to put down settler violence and enforce the settlement freeze further increased tensions.
The Israel Security Agency and INP cooperated with U.S. law enforcement agencies on cases involving U.S. citizens killed in terrorist attacks. On December 7, the Israeli Parliament (Knesset) passed a controversial biometrics bill. The law seeks to create a biometric database containing fingerprints and facial scans; corresponding biometric chips will be installed in Israeli identification cards and passports. The law will not officially go into effect until the Ministry of Interior signs implementation regulations. Once the law goes into effect, Israeli citizens can volunteer to participate in the program for a two-year trial period. Israel will reassess the law following the trial period to determine if the law will be extended.
Israeli security services spent more time, attention, and resources focused on cyberterrorism. IDF leadership stressed the importance of creating a “cyber command” to combat cyber threats. Israel security officials highlighted new trends in terrorist activity on the Internet beyond collecting information posted by Israelis. These included direct and concrete appeals and proposals to Israeli citizens, especially those active in social networks, to become involved in terrorist activity or pass along classified information in exchange for payment. Concerns over such activity included divulging classified information, as well as luring Israeli citizens abroad with the promise of payment so that terrorist organizations could abduct them. Security officials called on Israeli citizens to be alert to suspicious internet or telephone appeals by unfamiliar persons.
West Bank and Gaza
The Palestinian Authority (PA) continued its counterterrorism efforts in 2009, with an emphasis on controlling the activities of terrorist organizations, particularly HAMAS, in the West Bank. The PA remained unable to undertake counterterrorism efforts in the HAMAS-controlled Gaza Strip.
The number of rocket and mortar attacks into Israel from the Gaza Strip dropped from 2,048 in 2008 to 566 in 2009, although HAMAS and other armed groups in Gaza continued to smuggle weapons, cash, and other contraband into the Gaza Strip through an extensive network of tunnels from Egypt. Since the end of Operation Cast Lead, HAMAS has actively enforced a unilateral cease-fire with Israel, stopping rocket attacks, arresting militants firing on Israel, and negotiating agreements with the other factions to prevent violence.
HAMAS continued to consolidate its control over the Gaza Strip in 2009, eliminating or marginalizing potential rivals. The Gaza Strip remained a base of operations for terrorist organizations besides HAMAS, such as Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ); Salafi splinter groups, and clan-based criminal groups that engaged in or facilitated terrorist attacks.
HAMAS, PIJ, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command (PFLP-GC) remained present in the West Bank, although the improved capacity of PA security forces degraded those organizations’ ability to carry out attacks inside or from the West Bank. No suicide bombings took place inside or originated from either the Gaza Strip or the West Bank in 2009. In May and June, PA security forces took direct action against HAMAS cells in the West Bank city of Qalqilya, resulting in the deaths of five militants and the arrest of a sixth. At the end of 2009, the PA held approximately 240 suspected terrorists in custody in the West Bank.
The primary PA security forces in the West Bank were the Civil Police, the National Security Forces (NSF), the Preventive Security Organization (PSO), the General Intelligence Service (GI or Mukhabarat), the Presidential Guard (PG), and the Civil Defense. They numbered approximately 27,500 in total. PA security services are under the Interior Minister’s operational control and follow the Prime Minister’s guidance. Israeli authorities, among others, identified the improved capacity and performance of PA security forces as a leading contributor to the improved security environment of the West Bank.
In the Gaza Strip, HAMAS relied on its internal intelligence, police, coastal patrol, border guard, and military-wing “Executive Force” bodies, numbering at least 15,000 in total. In August, HAMAS security forces took direct action against the Salafi splinter group, Jund Ansar Allah, at a mosque in Rafah. A total of 24 were killed and the group was decimated.
Terrorist organizations, particularly HAMAS and PIJ, continued to receive substantial foreign funding and support from foreign terrorist organizations and state sponsors of terrorism, particularly Iran.
There were no terrorist attacks against American citizens in the West Bank or Gaza in 2009. No apparent 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 U.S. government contractors and critically injured a fourth.
Security cooperation between the PA and the Israeli government was close and productive, although there were continued Israeli military incursions in Palestinian population centers in the West Bank, which the PA strongly criticized. PA officials stressed the importance of close security cooperation with the Israeli government, but criticized what they considered slow and only partial Israeli recognition of the PA’s improved security performance. For their part, Israeli officials, while noting the achievements of PA security forces against HAMAS in the West Bank, questioned the PA’s willingness to deploy them against Fatah-affiliated militants. PA officials rejected this criticism.
The United States continued to assist the PA’s counterterrorism efforts through capacity building of PA security forces. As of the end of the year, four NSF battalions had been trained and equipped under the auspices of the U.S. Security Coordinator (USSC). USSC-run training of NSF battalions took place at the International Police Training Center in Jordan.
Limitations on PA counterterrorism efforts in the West Bank included restrictions on the equipment, movement, and activities of PA security forces in areas of the West Bank for which the Israeli government retained responsibility for security. PA officials argued that Israeli incursions into Palestinian population centers in the West Bank eroded PA security forces’ credibility. The limited capacity of the PA’s civilian criminal justice system also hampered PA counterterrorism efforts. The PA continued to lack modern forensic capability. Ongoing low-level violence between Israeli settlers and Palestinians in the West Bank tested the limited mandates of PA security forces.
PA President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad repeatedly condemned terrorist tactics and stated the necessity of a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict based on a political process and peaceful negotiations. They continued to support a security program involving disarmament of fugitive militants, arresting members of terrorist organizations, and gradually dismantling armed groups. PA efforts to end incitement to violence continued, using official monitoring of sermons given in West Bank mosques. There were no such efforts against incitement in the Gaza Strip, where the de facto HAMAS authorities continued to support incitement in public statements.
The PA continued its efforts against terrorism financing in the West Bank and Gaza by increasing its capacity to detect, analyze, and interdict suspicious financial activity. The Palestinian Monetary Authority (PMA) continued to build the analytical capability of its Financial Intelligence Unit.
The PMA maintained a staff of roughly 80 in the Gaza Strip to conduct on-site bank examinations, including audits of bank compliance with the PA’s 2007 Anti-Money Laundering (AML) decree. The PMA also licensed 90 percent of money service businesses in the West Bank and 45 percent in the Gaza Strip, under a new regulatory framework requiring moneychangers to comply with the AML law and conduct international transfers only through local banks rather than by phone or “hawala.” The PA Attorney General and Civil Police both formed specialized units that supported enforcement of the AML law, although limited technical expertise was a constraint. The PA Interior and Waqf Ministries also continued to monitor the charitable sector for signs of abuse by terrorist organizations.
Through both its public statements and its actions, the Jordanian Government demonstrated a solid commitment to countering terrorist groups and extremist ideologies. The Jordanian government continued its political and material support for the Palestinian Authority (PA) and for PA President Mahmoud Abbas. King Abdullah II routinely expresses backing for the peace process and for a negotiated settlement of the Israel-Palestine dispute. Jordan has facilitated the regional peace process by training five battalion-sized elements of the Palestine Security Forces at the Jordan International Police Training Center (JIPTC) outside of Amman, including two such training rotations in 2009. These Palestinian forces have since deployed throughout the West Bank, where their motivation and professionalism have earned praise from the different regional parties.
In late 2008, Jordan discontinued a short-lived and abortive attempt to engage HAMAS, which had begun a few months earlier. Although the government’s relationship with HAMAS is cool, the organization continued to garner some popular support, particularly in the aftermath of the Israeli-conducted Operation Cast Lead from December 2008 to January 2009. Numerous street demonstrations took place throughout Jordan in protest of the Israeli operation. Although the King permitted HAMAS leader Khaled Meshal into the country briefly in the fall of 2009 to attend the funeral of Meshal’s father, Jordanian security remained vigilant against any effort to establish cells or use Jordanian territory as a base of operations against Israel.
Jordan placed a strong emphasis upon countering violent extremism, fighting radicalization, and strengthening interfaith coexistence and dialogue. Building upon the foundations of the 2005 Amman Message, Jordanian officials, including King Abdullah II, strongly condemned extremist violence and the ideology that promotes it. The Royal Aal-al Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought under the leadership of Prince Ghazi bin-Talal continued its sponsorship of the “Common Word” series of ecumenical and interfaith conferences and lectures in the United States, the United Kingdom, and elsewhere. The “Common Word” program began as a response to the controversy caused by Pope Benedict XVI’s 2006 address in Regensburg. In May 2009, Jordan hosted a successful papal visit. Jordanian government officials and media routinely reinforce the importance of interfaith dialogue and tolerance.
At the same time the government undertook concrete measures to address the threat of extremist ideology in the country. Recognizing the key role that incarceration has played in the radicalization of many terrorists (including the Jordanian-born Abu Musab al-Zarqawi), Jordanian authorities continued their 2008 program of theological engagement of suspected takfiris and other radical inmates. This program employs carefully selected and vetted religious scholars and jurists to introduce or reinforce more balanced and moderate views, based upon established Islamic jurisprudence and teachings. In the summer of 2009, Jordanian correctional authorities introduced a classification system for prisoners that allowed authorities to more readily identify and segregate adherents of violent extremist ideologies.
Jordan’s security forces continued programs to prevent terrorist attacks in the country and to deny terrorists the use of its territory to launch attacks against its neighbors. For example, the first phase of the Joint Border Security Program (JBSP) was completed in September, including the installation of a suite of monitoring and communications equipment along a 50km stretch of Jordan’s border with Syria. This border area has historically presented the highest risk of illicit infiltration and smuggling across Jordan’s border and it accounted for the greatest number of interdictions by Jordanian law enforcement. The completion of this portion of the JSBP program significantly enhanced Jordan’s detection capabilities and allows Jordan to respond to incidents more quickly.
In August, Jordan, with U.S. government support, hosted a conference establishing the Regional Biometric Partnership Initiative, bringing together law enforcement, security, and forensic experts from twelve Middle Eastern countries. Jordan presented a tailored biometric software package and proposed the creation of a regional biometric database for known and suspected terrorists in the region to allow the efficient sharing of data between governments. The proposal won an endorsement in principal from other participants and could potentially do much to thwart terrorist travel. Jordan welcomed U.S. training and assistance designed to strengthen security at its ports of entry.
Jordan’s security services remained intensely engaged against domestic terrorist threats. As a result of their vigilance, several planned attacks were disrupted prior to execution. The State Security Court (SSC) has primary jurisdiction for terrorism cases and it maintained a substantial caseload during the year. For example:
- In March, three Jordanians were convicted and sentenced to 22 years each for plotting a suicide car bombing against a Roman Catholic Church in Marka. The plotters had originally wanted to strike police facilities but shifted their focus to a Christian target after their surveillances revealed the difficulty of attacking the police.
- In April, four men were arrested and charged with plotting attacks in Israel in retaliation for the Israeli incursion into Gaza. The men were reportedly in possession of firearms at the time of their apprehension. The alleged leader of the cell, Usama Abu Kabir, had been released from U.S. custody at Guantanamo Bay in November 2007.
- In April, the SSC sentenced three men to five years’ imprisonment for plotting and preparing attacks against Israeli targets on behalf of HAMAS. Potential targets included the Israeli Embassy in Amman and border posts in Jordan Valley.
- In October, the SSC imposed sentences of 15 to 20 years each on twelve Jordanian al-Qa’ida (AQ) sympathizers for attempting to attack a Christian church in the northern city of Irbid, as well as a Christian cemetery in the same city. This group was also reportedly affiliated with an individual who fired upon a visiting Lebanese Christian choir in Amman in 2008.
In November, the Court of Cassation reduced the sentence of Muamar Yusef al-Jaghbir to 15 years for his role in the 2002 assassination of USAID Officer Thomas Foley. Al Jaghbir was convicted of playing a secondary role in the killing, and had been previously convicted and sentenced to death in July in the SSC, but the Court of Cassation reviewed the case and reduced the sentence on appeal. He was also credited with the six years al-Jaghbir had already served in U.S. or Jordanian custody following his 2003 apprehension in Iraq. This ruling, however, is unlikely to result in al-Jaghbir’s release in the future: he is also awaiting execution for his role in the August 2003 car bombing of the Jordanian Embassy in Baghdad that killed at least 14 people.
Despite the government’s determination to battle radicalization, however, extremist messages still found a receptive audience with a small but significant proportion of the total population. According to polling data compiled by the Pew Research Center Global Attitudes survey for 2009, the percentage of Jordanians expressing “confidence” in Usama bin Ladin crept upwards to 28 percent in 2009 from 19 percent in 2008. According to WorldPublicOpinion.org (affiliated with the University of Maryland) roughly 27% of Jordanians stated that they had “positive” feelings toward bin Ladin, and another 27% expressed mixed feelings toward him.
Although there were no successful AQ attacks in Jordan itself in 2009, a Jordanian national, Hammam al-Balawi, carried out a December 30 suicide attack in Khost, Afghanistan, that killed seven U.S. government employees, as well as one member of the Jordanian security forces.
Jordan’s financial sector remained vulnerable to money-laundering and terrorist finance. Jordan has an Anti-Money Laundering (AML) law and in 2008, the Jordanian Securities Commission Board of Commissioners issued AML regulations for securities activities, a positive step toward defining obligated entities falling under the regulatory purview of the Commission.
Furthermore, Jordan began steps to implement a cross-border currency declaration form. Despite these measures, however, a Middle East North Africa Financial Action Task Force (MENAFATF) review identified deficiencies in 14 of 16 core and key FATF recommendations for combating money laundering and terrorist financing.
The Government of Kuwait made measured progress in combating terrorism. Despite a lack of legal provisions that deal specifically with terrorism, the government increased its efforts to counter terrorism, notably in the arrests and prosecutions of key terrorists and terrorism facilitators throughout the year. Buttressing these actions were increased denunciations of terrorism by senior Kuwaiti officials. In the past, the Kuwaiti government was more likely to take action against non-Kuwaiti residents involved in terrorist facilitation, but in 2009 it took steps against key local Sunni extremists perceived to pose a clear and direct danger to Kuwaiti or U.S. interests.
Kuwait was an effective and reliable partner in providing security for U.S. military installations and convoys, but the risk of a terrorist attack in Kuwait remained high. In July, Kuwaiti security officials arrested and charged six men with planning attacks on the U.S. military base Camp Arifjan, as well as Kuwait State Security headquarters.
In July, the Government of Kuwait opened the al-Salam Center, a treatment facility modeled after the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s rehabilitation center, to rehabilitate extremists including Kuwaitis repatriated from Guantanamo Bay Detention Center. The facility is located in a secured area within Kuwait’s Central Prison and is governed by a board of government officials, medical experts, and a religious scholar. Al-Salam Center received its first residents from Guantanamo in October and December.
The Kuwaiti Armed Forces, National Guard, and Ministry of Interior, along with counterparts from the United States, UAE, Bahrain, and Jordan, conducted a number of exercises aimed at responding to terrorist attacks. In January 2009, Kuwaiti National Guardsmen participated jointly with U.S. Embassy officials and a Marine Expeditionary Unit in a large-scale simulated defense of the Embassy chancery and compound against a terrorist attack and subsequent treatment and evacuation of the wounded.
Although the Kuwaiti government lacked comprehensive legislation that criminalizes terrorist financing, Kuwait has made progress over the past year in its efforts to prosecute financial crimes. An amended law designed to bring Kuwait’s anti-money laundering/terrorist finance regime in compliance with FATF requirements was passed to parliament in December 2009. Kuwait’s Financial Intelligence Unit, which is under the direct supervision of the Bank of Kuwait, is not part of the Egmont Group.
The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor (MoSAL) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) continued their monitoring and supervision of charities, including the ban on cash donations except during Ramadan. MoSAL reported a continued decline in the number of violations during their 2009 Ramadan audit. MFA and MoSAL officials also conducted site visits and audits of selected foreign projects funded by Kuwaiti charities.
Significant terrorism-related arrests and prosecutions took place during the year, notably, the July sentencing of a Kuwaiti citizen to seven years imprisonment on a combination of charges of holding weapons, carrying a false passport, and inciting hostile acts against a foreign country. A local imam also received a seven-year sentence in December for facilitating hostile acts against a foreign country. On December 21, the Criminal Court began the trial of the six Kuwaitis accused of planning attacks against U.S. military base Camp Arifjan and Kuwait State Security headquarters. There have also been convictions using existing criminal statutes to successfully prosecute two individuals, in January and August respectively, for “inciting youth to jihad” and facilitating terrorism in Iraq, and for “supporting and funding terrorist activities.” The courts suspended, in both cases, sentences of three years imprisonment upon payments by the defendants of US$ 3,540.
In October and November, two of the remaining four Kuwaiti Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility detainees were repatriated to Kuwait. On November 23, one of the two was acquitted by Kuwait’s Attorney General on all terrorism-related charges.
In October, the Kuwaiti Ministry of Interior submitted 17 security proposals to the government’s four-year Action Plan, among which are the following counterterrorism initiatives:
- Border Security (US$ 602,000,000): Securing borders to deter illegal entry of foreigners into the country, to prevent smuggling, and to monitor and survey restricted areas.
- Terrorism (US$ 13,000,000): Counterterrorism and counter-radicalization project to secure the “internal front” against terrorism, achieve stability, and protect the Kuwaiti society against extremist messages.
- CCTV (US$ 475,000): CCTV network to secure vital installations, highways, land and marine borders, islands, and populous locations.
- Port Security (US$ 138,000,000): Securing air, sea, and land ports.
While the threat of terrorist activity kept Lebanese security agencies on high alert throughout the year, 2009 was characterized by increased governmental efforts to disrupt suspected terrorist cells before they could act. The Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), in particular, were credited with capturing wanted terrorist fugitives and containing sectarian violence.
Several designated terrorist organizations remained active in Lebanon. HAMAS, The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC), Fatah al-Islam (FAI), al-Qa’ida (AQ), Jund al-Sham, the Ziyad al-Jarrah Battalions, and several other splinter groups all operated within Lebanon’s borders. Hizballah, which is a legal entity and a major political party, is represented in Lebanon's cabinet and parliament.
In 2009, terrorist violence and counterterrorist activity included the following incidents:
- On five separate occasions, January 8 and 14, February 21, September 11, and October 27, Katyusha rockets were fired from southern Lebanon into Israel. No casualties were reported from any of the incidents. The AQ-inspired Ziyad al-Jarrah battalions claimed responsibility for several of the attacks.
- On March 24, the Internal Security Forces (ISF) defused an explosive device near the home of former Lebanese President Amin Gemayel and arrested a Syrian, Youssef Mohammad al-Mohammed, who remains imprisoned.
- On June 17, the Lebanese Army thwarted an attempt to drive a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device into the Ain al-Hilweh refugee camp in Sidon. Hasan Merhi, a FAI member was arrested in connection with the incident.
- In July, the Lebanese Army arrested Syrian citizen Mounjed al-Fahham at Beirut International Airport. Investigations revealed that al-Fahham intended to smuggle out of Lebanon FAI spiritual leader Oussama Chehabi, known as Abou Zahra; FAI leader Abdel Rahman Awad; and Abdel Ghani Jawhar, wanted for 2008 attacks against LAF soldiers in Tripoli.
- On August 19, an LAF intelligence unit arrested Lebanese citizen Wissam Tahbish, reported to be a key member of Jund al-Sham. Tahbish was the primary suspect in the 1999 assassination of four Lebanese judges in Sidon.
- On September 17, a Lebanese military court convicted five Palestinians of armed attacks, including a January 2008 bombing aimed at United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) peacekeepers. The one member in custody was sentenced to three years of hard labor while four fugitive members, convicted in absentia, were given life sentences.
The June 7 parliamentary elections, an event widely considered vulnerable to politically motivated violence, passed peacefully under the watch of international observers and a fully deployed LAF. In these elections, the March 14 coalition led by Sunni leader Saad Hariri, defeated the March 8 opposition allied with Syria and Iran. After six months of negotiations between the majority and opposition, Saad Hariri brokered agreement over the cabinet and was named prime minister. He formed a national unity government, which included Hizballah. The new government obtained a vote of confidence on December 10.
Incoming PM Hariri announced that strengthening the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) and the Internal Security Forces (ISF) would be a hallmark of his administration. General Jean Kahwagi, LAF commander since 2008, publicly listed counterterrorism, internal security, and suppression of sectarian violence as his top priorities. The U.S. government had an active security assistance program with the LAF and the ISF that included both training and equipment.
LAF commanders stressed that it has strengthened its surveillance capabilities over the 12 Palestinian camps and four Syrian-backed Palestinian military bases within its borders. Nevertheless, a porous border with Syria, weak internal camp security, and LAF reluctance to enter the Palestinian refugee camps all contributed to fears of another confrontation with an armed group, similar to the 2007 Nahr al-Barid conflict. 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 HAMAS-Fatah violence and as a suspected safe haven for fugitive FAI terrorists.
UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1559 called for respecting the sovereignty and political independence of Lebanon, the end of foreign interference in Lebanon, and the disarming and disbanding of all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias. While the Lebanese government was committed to fulfilling the provisions of UNSCR 1559, it maintained that Hizballah’s disarmament should be accomplished through a National Dialogue, rather than by force. The new government’s ministerial statement – similar to the policy statements of the last two governments – acknowledged the right of the Lebanese “resistance” (interpreted by many as referring to Hizballah’s militia), along with the army, to recover occupied territory and confront external aggression.
The dismantling of four Palestinian military bases controlled by Syrian-backed groups remained a concern for the LAF. The Qousaya Base, which straddles the border with Syria and allows easy access for fugitives and smugglers, was of particular concern. Activity in these bases reportedly remained quiet in 2009, although without political support to dismantle them, the LAF can do little more than monitor ththe camps. However, Lebanon’s political leaders had previously agreed at the 2006 National Dialogue to disarm Palestinian groups outside of the country’s refugee camps. The new ministerial statement also called for the elimination of Palestinian weapons outside the refugee camps and obliged the government to provide security for Palestinian refugees.
Security along the Syria-Lebanon border remained problematic. The Government of Lebanon still does not exercise control over parts of the border. Over the course of the year, conflicting reports surfaced of weapons smuggling from Syria and Iran to Hizballah and other militant groups in Lebanon. Reports from UNIFIL and the LAF said there was no conclusive evidence of arms smuggling to Hizballah in the UNIFIL area of operations south of the Litani River. UNIFIL and the LAF described a suspected Hizballah arms cache that exploded in July in the southern village of Khirbet Selim as containing weapons that pre-dated the 2006 war and the establishment of UNSCR 1701. Nevertheless, Hizballah officials publically stated that the organization is now more heavily armed than it was before the 2006 war with Israel.
In June, then-Prime Minister Fouad Siniora announced the government’s intention to improve border security. In July, an LAF-headed team produced a comprehensive border security management plan, for which the UN Special Coordinator on Lebanon (UNSCOL) is coordinating further technical evaluation with donor assistance. The Lebanese security agencies lacked strong interagency cooperation, so progress on implementing the integrated border management plan moved slowly. Some gains were achieved on port security through better radiological screening of incoming shipping containers, and upgraded customs inspection stations on the eastern border improved border inspections.
On March 1, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon was officially opened in The Hague. The investigation into the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and others continued.
Lebanon has not yet become party to two important international counterterrorism conventions. The International Convention on the Suppression of Terrorist Bombing was before the Parliament, but was sent back to the parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee for further study. The International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism was not submitted by the Foreign Ministry for cabinet approval due to reservations by the Finance Ministry.
Lebanon hosted the 2009 Middle East and North Africa Financial Action Task Force (MENA-FATF) and played a leadership role in the U.S.-MENA Private Sector Dialogue. Lebanon’s financial intelligence unit is the Special Investigation Commission (SIC), an independent legal entity empowered to investigate suspicious financial transactions, lift banking secrecy, and freeze assets. In 2009, it investigated 116 cases involving allegations of money laundering, terrorism, and terrorist financing activities. The SIC referred requests for designation or asset freezes regarding Hizballah and affiliated groups to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but the Lebanese government does not require banks to freeze these assets because it 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 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. Mohammad Ali Hamadi, convicted in a West German court in 1987 of air piracy, murder, and possession of explosives for his part in the 1985 TWA Flight 847 hijacking, spent 18 years in a German prison before he was paroled in December 2005 and was believed to be in Lebanon. He remains under criminal indictment in the United States for his role in the hijacking, and the United States has previously sought his extradition from 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.
On July 20, Malian President Amadou Toumani Toure confirmed to the Malian press that Libya, Algeria, and Mali planned to coordinate military and intelligence efforts to fight security threats linked to al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in the Trans-Sahara region.
In November 2007, 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.
In late September, six leading members of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, being held in the Abu Salim prison, issued a document renouncing violence and claiming to adhere to a more sound Islamic theology than that of AQ and other jihadist organizations. The 417-page, Arabic-language document, entitled “Revisionist Studies of the Concepts of Jihad, Verification, and Judgment of People,” was the product of a two-year reconciliation project between the Government of Libya and the LIFG, facilitated by the Qadhafi Development Foundation. The authors state that “The lack of religious knowledge, whether it was a result of an absence of ‘ulama’ (religious scholars) or the neglect of people in receiving it and attaining it, or due to the absence of its sources, is the biggest cause of errors and religious violations.”
In the text, the authors directly challenged AQ, addressing the recantation to “anyone who we might have once had organizational or brotherly ties with.” The document gave detailed interpretations of the “ethics and morals to jihad,” which included the rejection of violence as a means to change political situations in Muslim majority countries whose leader is a Muslim and condemned “the killing of women, children, the elderly, monks/priests, wage earners, messengers, merchants and the like.” It claimed that “the reduction of jihad to fighting with the sword is an error and shortcoming.” According to press and government sources, at least 144 former LIFG members and 60 members of other jihadist groups have been released from prison after completing this rehabilitation effort.
Morocco pursued a comprehensive counterterrorism approach that emphasized vigilant security measures, including international cooperation and innovation in the area of counter-radicalization policies. Evidence gained from Moroccan authorities’ disruption of certain groups, and the common characteristics of those groups, supported previous analysis that Morocco’s threat of terrorist attack continued to stem largely from the existence of numerous small “grassroots” extremist cells. These groups, sometimes referred to collectively as adherents of Moroccan Salafia Jihadia ideology, remained isolated from one another, small in size (less than 50 individuals each), and tactically limited. Their international connections were also limited. The Government of Morocco’s counterterrorism efforts have effectively reduced the threat, but the existence of these groups points to the need for continued vigilance.
Although AQIM has been unable to mount 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 internet propaganda. The Moroccan government remained concerned about numbers of veteran Moroccan jihadists returning from Iraq to conduct terrorist attacks at home. A further cause for concern is Moroccans who were radicalized during their stays in Western Europe, much like those who were involved in the 2004 Madrid train bombings.
The Moroccan government pursued a comprehensive counterterrorism approach that, building on popular rejection of terrorism, emphasized neutralizing existing terrorist cells through traditional intelligence work and preemptive security measures. Morocco aggressively targeted and dismantled terrorist cells within the Kingdom by leveraging intelligence collection, police work, and collaboration with regional and other international partners. These efforts resulted in the disruption of several terrorist groups:
- In February, Moroccan police arrested Abdelkebir Barka at the Mohammed V International Airport upon his return from Syria. He was charged with forming a terrorist cell.
- In May, the Moroccan police arrested eight alleged members of the terrorist group “Jamaat al Mouslimoun al Joudoud.”
- In June, Moroccan authorities arrested five members of a suspected terrorist cell operating in Morocco and Spain.
- In late June, the security services arrested eight individuals on charges of forming a terrorist group, bringing charges that included drug trafficking and corruption. The leader of the group was Abou Yassine, a former Salafia Jihadia prisoner who had been sentenced previously to two years in jail for his involvement in the “Ansar al-Mahdi” terrorist group. The cell operated between Morocco and Spain, according to press reports.
- In September, security services arrested 24 members of an alleged terrorist network linked to AQ that recruited volunteers for suicide bombings in Iraq, according to the Ministry of Interior. The Interior Ministry stated that the network had coordinated with terrorists in Sweden, Belgium, Iraq, and Syria and had also sought recruits to fight in Afghanistan and Somalia. Those arrested also intended to carry out terrorist acts in Morocco, according to the Ministry.
In addition to traditional security measures, Morocco’s King Mohammed VI has promoted significant efforts to reduce extremism and dissuade individuals from becoming radicalized. Each Ramadan, for example, the King hosts a series of religious lectures, inviting Muslim speakers from around the world to promote moderate and peaceful religious viewpoints. In his Throne Day speech in July, the King highlighted the moderate and tolerant nature of the Sunni Malekite rite, which, he emphasized, forms an integral part of Moroccan identity. After the 2003 Casablanca bombings, Morocco increasingly focused on strengthening the Ministry of Endowments and Islamic Affairs (MOIA). Under the MOIA, the pioneering experiment, begun in 2007, of training and using women as spiritual guides continued. Morocco also formed a Council of Ulema for Europe to train and send Moroccan imams and women spiritual guides to counter extremist messages in Moroccan expatriate communities in Europe.
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 US$1.2 billion program designed to generate employment, combat poverty, and improve infrastructure, with a special focus on rural areas.
The Government of Morocco made public commitments that the struggle against terrorism would not be used to deprive individuals of their rights and emphasized as part of its approach adherence to human rights standards and increased law enforcement transparency. There were numerous convictions and the upholding of convictions of multiple terrorism-related cases:
- In January, a Moroccan criminal court sentenced Abdelmajid Zerghout to five years in prison for forming a terrorist group. Zerghout had been an imam in Italy before he was extradited to Morocco for his alleged involvement in the terrorist attacks of May 16, 2003 in Casablanca.
- In February, a Moroccan counterterrorism court condemned Saad al-Husseini, the key plotter of the Casablanca attacks, to 15 years in prison. His five accomplices received between three and eight years. Then, in June, a Moroccan increased the jail terms of al-Husseini and his accomplices, who were sentenced for “undermining the national security of the State” and forming a terrorist group, to 20 and 10 years, respectively.
- In March, a Moroccan court condemned Hassan Haski to 10 years in prison for his involvement in the 2003 terrorist attack in Casablanca.
- In September, 38 people suspected of belonging to a network that recruited Moroccans to fight in Iraq and Algeria appeared before a counterterrorist court. Police said the suspects intended to join terrorist groups in desert camps run by AQIM before proceeding to Iraq.
As part of its comprehensive approach in combating terrorism, Morocco also addressed terrorist financing. Although Morocco is not a regional financial center, its financial sector is integrated into international markets. Money laundering is a concern due to the narcotics trade, vast informal sector, trafficking in persons, and large level of remittances from Moroccans living abroad. The extent of the money laundering problem in the country is unknown, but conditions exist for it to occur on a significant scale. In recent years, Morocco has taken a series of steps to address the problem, most notably with the enactment of a terrorist finance (CFT) law in May 2003; with a comprehensive anti-money laundering (AML) law in April 2007; and with the establishment of a Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) in April 2009. These actions have provided the legal basis for the monitoring, investigation, and prosecution of illegal financial activities. The new laws allow for the freezing of suspicious accounts and permit the prosecution of terrorist finance-related crimes. U.S. and EU programs are providing Moroccan police, customs, central bank, and government financial officials with training to recognize money laundering methods. The FIU and its member organizations met with the U.S. Department of the Treasury and the Department of Homeland Security in early October to discuss possible U.S. technical assistance to develop the AML/CFT regime. A formal request from the FIU and the Central Bank followed in November. Morocco had a relatively effective system through the newly established FIU for disseminating U.S. government and UN Security Council terrorist freeze lists to its financial sector and legal authorities. Morocco froze some terrorist-related accounts.
Another key to Morocco’s counterterrorism efforts was 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, often in collaboration with international partners. Morocco and the United States worked together extensively on counterterrorism efforts at the tactical level. In the past years, Morocco has accepted prisoners formerly detained at Guantanamo Bay and prosecuted them under Moroccan law. In May, a Moroccan criminal court reduced the sentence of former Guantanamo Bay detainee Mohammed Benmoujane from 10 to two years.
Morocco also forged solid cooperative relationships with European and African partners by sharing information and conducting joint operations. Morocco is considered a Mediterranean Dialogue partner of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and also cooperated with regional partners on a bilateral basis. In March, Spanish police arrested a Moroccan on an international warrant issued by Morocco on suspicion of belonging to a terrorist group that had planned attacks on official and tourist targets in Morocco. Morocco also worked closely with African partners such as Mauritania and Senegal. The government used army and Ministry of Interior paramilitary forces to secure its borders as best it could but faced resource constraints and both a lengthy border and lengthy coastline.
Oman continued to be proactive in implementing counterterrorism strategies and cooperating with neighboring countries to prevent terrorists from entering or moving freely throughout the Arabian Peninsula. The Omani government opposed the spread of extremist ideology by promoting religious moderation and tolerance. To better coordinate efforts to prevent terrorist-related activities, the government continued development of a national terrorism operations and analysis center. In some cases, the country was resistant to sharing of specific information or its activities in this field with bilateral partners. Oman is not a major financial center and did not have a significant money laundering problem.
In this regard, an Omani businessman, Ali Abdul Aziz al-Hooti, was arrested, tried, and sentenced to life imprisonment in Oman for helping to fund Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, as well as helping plan terrorist attacks in Oman. At the same time, al-Hooti’s Indian-born accomplice, Sarfraz Nawaz, was returned to India where he is also serving a life term.
Oman’s long coastline and relatively porous borders remained vulnerable to illegal transit by migrant workers, smugglers, terrorists and drug traffickers. The government was concerned about the steady flow of illegal immigrants attempting to transit Oman to other destinations in the Arabian Peninsula, particularly the United Arab Emirates. The majority of the illegal immigrants apprehended were from Pakistan and Afghanistan. Somalis continued to attempt to cross the border illegally into Oman from Yemen.
The Omani government actively sought training and equipment from the United States and other countries and relevant commercial entities, to support its efforts to control its land and maritime borders. It continued conceptual development of joint operations centers to be staffed and equipped by relevant ministries. Oman used United States security assistance to enhance nighttime operational capabilities on its maritime and land borders.
While Qatar and the United States cooperated on some counterterrorism issues, the United States continued to strive for increased cooperation – and particularly information sharing – with the Qatari government. 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 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 was responsible for overseeing all domestic and international charitable activities, including approving international fund transfers by charities and monitoring overseas charitable, development, and humanitarian projects. The Authority reports annually to Qatari government ministries on their 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.
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 United States provided law enforcement and counterterrorism training under various programs. Exchanges and training have had helped sustain a good relationship with Qatari law enforcement agencies and improved their counterterrorism capabilities.
The Saudi government continued to build its counterterrorism capacity and strengthened efforts to counter extremist ideology. Over the course of the year, Saudi authorities arrested numerous suspected al-Qa’ida (AQ) militants, uncovered several AQ arms caches, continued to develop its new facilities security force, implemented improved border security measures, and tightened laws aimed at combating terrorist financing. In addition, prominent officials and religious leaders publicly criticized extremist ideology. Although Saudi Arabia’s capacity to deal with internal threats remained strong, continued instability in Yemen gave al-Qa’ida in the Arabia Peninsula (AQAP) a base to continue targeting Saudi Arabia.
The country suffered a high profile attack on August 27 – the first since 2005 – when the Deputy Minister of the Interior for Security Affairs, Prince Mohammed bin Nayif, survived an assassination attempt. The prince, who spearheads the Kingdom’s counterterrorism operations, invited AQAP member Abdullah al-Asiri to his palace to personally accept his surrender. As a show of good faith, Prince Mohammed asked that al-Asiri be excluded from the usual security screening. Approximately 40 minutes after his arrival at the palace, al-Asiri detonated explosives hidden on his person. The prince suffered minor injuries and the would-be assassin was killed in the explosion. There were no other casualties. Following the attack, Second Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior Prince Nayif bin Abdulaziz and other officials publicly re-affirmed the Kingdom’s commitment to its counterterrorism strategy.
Saudi authorities focused public attention on a list of key extremists located outside the Kingdom and made several terrorism-related arrests. On February 2, the Saudi Ministry of Interior (MOI) issued a list of the 85 most wanted suspects located outside of the Kingdom, 83 Saudi nationals and two Yemenis, including AQAP senior leaders and others tied to AQ across the Middle East and South Asia. On August 19, the MOI announced the arrests of 44 AQ suspects throughout the country and the discovery of large weapon caches. On October 13, police shot and killed two Saudis with links to AQ at a checkpoint in Jizan. The men entered the country disguised in women’s clothing and, according to police reports, the vehicle was loaded with weapons and explosives. A third man in the car was also arrested. On November 1, the MOI announced the discovery of another large weapons cache that was located using the information they obtained from interviews with the AQ-linked suspects arrested in August.
Saudi citizens were also arrested on terrorism charges in neighboring Yemen. In February, Yemeni police arrested seven Saudi citizens with AQ links on suspicion of planning attacks against Saudi Arabia. Also in February, Saudi citizen Mohammed al-Harbi, a former Guantanamo detainee and terrorist rehabilitation program graduate who later appeared in AQAP propaganda videos, surrendered to Yemeni authorities and was returned to Saudi Arabia.
Trials continued for more than 900 militants arrested from 2000-2008 on charges of terrorism. In July, the Ministry of Justice announced that 270 of these suspects were convicted, with sentences ranging from a few months incarceration to death.
The Saudi government focused on combating extremist ideology as a key part of its counterterrorism strategy. The Ministry of Islamic Affairs (MoIA) continued its extensive media campaign to educate young Saudis on 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 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 2009, the government continued to monitor these licensed imams and identify instances of “illegal sermons.” On March 25, the MoIA announced that in the past five years they have dismissed 3,200 clerics for preaching intolerance.
Prominent Saudi officials and religious leaders also spoke out against extremism. For example:
- In a Friday sermon in Riyadh following the MoI’s announcement of 44 AQ related arrests in August, the Grand Mufti strongly attacked the “deviant group” responsible for past extremist operations in the Kingdom and expressed surprise that highly-educated individuals would join such a network.
- In opening remarks delivered on behalf of King Abdullah at the Muslim World League conference held in Jeddah in November, Mecca Governor Prince Khaled al-Faisal urged Muslim scholars to “stand firm in the face of extremist ideology to prevent it from corrupting Muslim youth.”
- In September, Prince Khalid bin Sultan, Assistant Minister of Defense, told the media that there would be no compromise with extremist groups who work under the pretext of following religious principles. He also stated that extremism surrounded Saudi Arabia, and required Saudis to be on maximum alert.
Saudi Arabia continued to operate a government-run rehabilitation center for extremists. Since its inception, the program has worked to reintegrate between 200 and 300 extremists, including former Guantanamo detainees, into Saudi society. In January, two of the program’s graduates, Said Ali al-Shihri and Muhammad al-Harbi, appeared in a propaganda video announcing the formation of AQAP in Yemen. Both men were former Guantanamo detainees. Al-Harbi later surrendered to Yemeni authorities and was remanded to Saudi Arabia. The MoI estimates recidivism rates for former Guantanamo detainees to be 25% and for all other program participants to be less than 10%.
In addition to its rehabilitation effort, the MoI continued a program of counter-radicalization within the prison system aimed at exposing the violence that extremist ideology entails. The MoI worked with specialists, clerics, and teachers to stop extremist groups from being able to find recruits in the prison system. Since its inception, 3,200 detainees have participated in 5,000 counter-radicalization meetings.
The Government of Saudi Arabia continued to take measures to strengthen its physical borders and improve its security screening processes. The Ministry of the Interior worked to increase the overall safety and security of its land, sea, and air borders by upgrading infrastructure and tightening procedures. The MOI also instituted biometric screening at airports.
Saudi Arabia continued to make progress in combating money laundering and terrorist finance. 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 May, the FIU was accepted into the Egmont Group, an international group of financial intelligence units, which should improve its ability to cooperate and share information with FIUs around the world.
Also in May, the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency hosted the sixth annual Gulf–European Symposium on Combating Terrorism Financing. Several government bodies, including the Ministries of Social Affairs, Interior, Islamic Affairs, and the central bank continued to advise Saudis to be cautious when selecting charity groups to which they contribute. The government has also banned cash contributions to charities, required charities to seek Ministry of Interior permission before opening a bank account, and required that charities’ bank accounts be in the name of the organization. Terrorist finance facilitators were among those convicted of supporting terrorism in June. Although Saudi Arabia took important steps to address hawala remittances, further vigilance is required. The United States urged the Government of Saudi Arabia to pursue and prosecute terrorist financiers vigorously.
The Government of Tunisia placed a high priority on combating extremism and terrorism. In addition to using security and law enforcement measures, the Tunisian government also used social and economic programs, including health care and public education, to ameliorate the conditions that terrorists exploit for recruitment and propaganda purposes. The government prohibits the formation of religious-based political parties and groups it believes could pose a terrorist threat. Tunisia does not have a rehabilitation or reintegration program. The Tunisian government puts a high priority on controlling the border regions.
On July 30, the Chamber of Advisors amended the 2003 anti-terrorism law to harmonize national legislation with UN resolutions related to terrorism financing and money laundering. The amendments included measures to establish databases on terrorist financial transactions; protect the identities of magistrates, judicial police officers and civil servants involved in terrorism and money laundering cases; freeze funds belonging to people accused of terrorist activities; and extend from two to five days the period allowed for a public prosecutor to issue his judgment on investigations carried out by the Financial Analysis Commission. The new legislation made a clear distinction between terrorism and resistance, with specific reference to the Palestinians.
The Government of Tunisia enforced the 2003 anti-terrorism law. However, the government’s application of the law was criticized by Tunisian and international organizations who maintained that too many individuals undergo extended pre-trial detention and face unfair trials that rely on weak evidence. In response to a claim by Tunisian lawyers that 2000 people had been sentenced under the anti-terrorism law, the Minister of Justice stated on May 27 that 300 persons were being detained on terrorism charges.
On July 2, a private Tunisian lawyer announced in the press that the government was charging two military officers along with seven civilians for plotting to attack U.S. military personnel in country. On July 14, Tunisian media reported that prosecutors dropped the charges against the two officers, citing lack of evidence.
Among the cases in which sentences were publicly announced:
- On March 26, the court in Grombalia, Nabeul sentenced a man to three years in prison for joining a terrorist movement. He had been previously arrested in December 2006 and released 18 days later.
- May 14, a woman was sentenced to six years in prison for belonging to a terrorist organization, incitement to join terrorist organizations, funding terrorism, and traveling outside the country without official documents.
- May 20, a military court sentenced one person to three years in prison on terrorism-related charges.
- In June, the Tunisian Appeals Court sentenced 22 individuals to three to eight years in prison for belonging to a terrorist organization, obtaining supplies and equipmentfor the organization, and for calling for acts of terrorism. One of the 22 individuals convicted was a non-commissioned military officer.
- On July 6, 19 individuals suspected of belonging to the Pan-Islamist “Party of Liberation”, were given sentences ranging from 11-14 months in prison for belonging to a foreign terrorist organization.
- On August 2, a Tunisian was forcibly repatriated from Italy to Tunisia after completing a six year sentence for belonging to a terrorist organization. He was arrested upon his arrival in Tunisia and then released on bail August 10. The police informed him that he could not leave his house or receive visitors without their permission.
- On October 1, the Tunis court sentenced six individuals to one year in prison for holding an unauthorized meeting, and one person to ten years for belonging to a terrorist organization and inciting terrorist acts.
- On October 17, nine men were given sentences ranging from three to six years in prison on terrorist related charges.
United Arab Emirates
While there were no terrorist attacks in the UAE in 2009, seven Emiratis were charged with promoting and funding terrorism. A U.S. citizen was convicted of supporting a foreign terrorist organization and subsequently deported to Lebanon, his country of birth.
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 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, 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 transshipments 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 between the United Arab Emirates and the United States.
The UAE continued efforts to strengthen its institutional capabilities to combat terrorist financing, but challenges remained. The Central Bank initiated memoranda of understanding with regional FIUs, and performed anti-money laundering training both locally and regionally. The 2008 MENA-FATF (Middle East North Africa Financial Action Task Force) Mutual Evaluation Report for the UAE 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 took important steps to address hawala remittances, further vigilance is required, as hawalas are easily used for money laundering.
The UAE Central Bank provided training programs to financial institutions on money laundering and terrorist financing. The United States and the UAE worked together to strengthen efforts to combat Bulk Cash Smuggling (BCS), in particular from countries at higher risk of illicit finance activity. Immigration and Customs Enforcement provided Dubai Customs with BCS training for airport interdiction of contraband currency. The Department of Justice also provided BCS training for prosecutors in Dubai.
The security situation in Yemen continued to deteriorate during 2009. Al-Qa’ida in Yemen (AQY) announced its merger with al-Qa’ida (AQ) elements in Saudi Arabia in January 2009, creating al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). This strategy of consolidation received significant publicity and demonstrated AQ’s reinvigorated recruitment efforts and commitment to expand operations throughout the Peninsula. However, the creation of AQAP coincided with fewer attacks within Yemen. This was due in part to Yemeni security forces’ disruptions of the group, but also may have reflected the desire of AQAP’s leadership to reduce its attacks within Yemen and use the country – and particularly those regions that were largely outside government control -- as a safe haven for planning future attacks.
The government’s response to the terrorist threat was intermittent, and its ability to pursue and prosecute suspected terrorists remained weak throughout most of the year. Draft counterterrorism legislation stalled in Parliament. The government’s response, however, improved dramatically in December, exemplified by the heightened pace of counterterrorism operations. Still, the government’s focus on other internal security challenges, including the “Sixth War” of the Houthi rebellion in the northern Sa’ada governorate, which began in August and had not ceased by year’s end, often diverted it from broader counterterrorism activities.
On December 25, Nigerian citizen Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab attempted to blow himself up while on a flight into Detroit. Abdulmutallab admitted to having been trained by AQAP in Yemen.
There were three terrorist attacks against foreign interests:
- On March 15, four South Korean tourists were killed in a suicide bomb attack in the city of Shibam in Hadramaut province.
- On March 18, a motorcade carrying South Korean government officials was attacked by a suicide bomber on the road to Sana’a International Airport.
- In June, nine foreigners were kidnapped in Sa’ada, resulting in three confirmed deaths. The remaining six were still missing at year’s end.
There were a number of terrorist attacks against Yemeni interests, particularly Yemeni security and military targets. Terrorist elements, either explicitly aligned with AQAP or related actors, attacked Yemeni targets of opportunity in Ma’rib and Hadramaut in June, July, October, and November; among these incidents was the assassination of three high-level security officials. AQAP showed signs of financial strain, and Yemeni authorities suspected them to have conducted the sophisticated robbery of a Yemeni bank truck in Aden on August 17 that resulted in the theft of US$ 500,000.
While attacks inside Yemen decreased from 2008, AQAP launched an attempt on Saudi counterterrorism chief Prince Mohammed bin Nayif’s life in Riyadh on August 27. A known AQAP member, Abdullah al-Asiri, claimed he was seeking a royal pardon during Ramadan and gained access to bin Nayif. Al-Asiri detonated a bomb, killing himself but failing to inflict serious injury on the prince. The suicide bomber was thought to have crossed into Saudi Arabia via the northern Yemeni border.
Despite these security challenges, there were counterterrorism successes in 2009, including:
- On January 19, the Counterterrorism Unit (CTU) conducted a raid on an AQ cell in Sana’a, which resulted in the death of two suspects, and the capture of another suspect and a weapons cache, including machine guns, mortars, and rocket-propelled grenades.
- In March, Abdullah Abdul-Rahman Mohammed al-Harbi, a Saudi AQAP member, was arrested in Ta’iz and later returned to Saudi Arabia. Also in Yemen, Naif Duhais Yahya al-Harbi, another Saudi national AQAP member, surrendered and Hasan Hessian bin Alwan, a Saudi AQAP financier, was arrested in June.
- On December 17, strikes were conducted on two significant AQAP sites. Similar strikes followed on December 24. In the wake of these operations, Yemeni officials affirmed that they will continue to pursue AQAP operatives.
Throughout most of the year, prosecuting terrorists remained extremely difficult for Yemeni courts, largely because current law, as applied to counterterrorism and the financing of terrorism, remained weak. Counterterrorism legislation sent to a Parliamentary committee for review in 2008 remained there at year’s end. The absence of effective counterterrorism legislation that criminalized the activities of those engaged in planning and facilitating acts of terrorism, both in Yemen and abroad, contributed to Yemen’s appeal as a safe haven and potential base of operations for terrorists. For this reason, the government was forced to apply other available laws, including fraudulent document charges or “membership in an armed gang” charges to thwart foreign fighters going to Iraq and Afghanistan. Those who commit acts of terrorism in Yemen can face punishment for murder or assault under the criminal system, but terrorism itself is not a defined crime, and therefore not illegal. On December 29, however, the Parliament passed long-stalled counterterrorist finance and anti-money laundering legislation that gave the government new powers to investigate and prosecute terrorist financial networks operating inside the country. Legal, political, and logistical hurdles remained a hindrance to an effective detention and rehabilitation program for Guantanamo returnees. The government lacked a secure facility to house Guantanamo returnees, a plan for rehabilitating the returnees, or the legal framework to hold returnees for more than a short amount of time. The government’s monitoring program of released Guantanamo returnees remained largely ineffective.
As Saudi security forces have clamped down on terrorism, and foreign fighters have returned from Afghanistan and Pakistan, Yemen’s porous borders have allowed many terrorists to seek to base operations within Yemen. The government lacked a strong security apparatus outside major cities and its Counterterrorism Unit and Yemen Special Operations Force, the state’s two premier counterterrorism entities, required additional training and funding in order to effectively target terrorist elements. The Department of State provided training and equipment to Yemen’s security forces in the Ministry of Interior, including the Yemeni Coast Guard and the Central Security Forces Counterterrorism Units (CTU). The United States also supported regional and multilateral efforts to help Yemen stop the flow of funding to terrorism, including regional training of Yemeni officials from the Central Bank, Ministry of Finance, and Financial Intelligence Unit.
 The Security Agreement is the legal basis for continued security cooperation to help Iraq build its capacity to fight terrorist organizations and establish formal mechanisms for joint security operations.
 The convicted suspects are in custody and serving jail terms, but U.S. Embassy Riyadh was not aware of any executions carried out.