Although significant terrorist activities and safe havens continued to persist in the Middle East and North Africa throughout 2019, the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS and its local partners achieved important milestones, to include liberating the remaining territory held by ISIS in Syria and the successful raid against ISIS emir Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Given the collapse of its so-called “caliphate,” remnants of ISIS in Iraq and Syria reverted to clandestine tactics – a trend expected to continue. Beyond Iraq and Syria, ISIS branches, networks, and supporters across the Middle East and North Africa remained active in 2019, including in Libya, the Arabian Peninsula, the Sinai Peninsula, Tunisia, and Yemen. Al-Qa’ida (AQ) and its affiliates, as well as Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF) and Iran-backed terrorist groups, also remained active throughout the region.
ISIS continued its terrorist campaign in the Sinai through its branch ISIS-Sinai Province (ISIS-SP), and terrorist groups in Egypt carried out more attacks than in recent years. Of note, ISIS-SP was the first ISIS affiliate to swear allegiance to the new ISIS self-proclaimed caliph following Baghdadi’s death. In the Maghreb, counterterrorism efforts and operations by Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia thwarted the activities of ISIS and other terrorist groups. Algerian armed forces and internal security forces published figures showing an increase in arrests of terrorists or terrorist suspects compared with 2018, and Tunisia increased its successful CT operations, including the killing of Jund al-Khilafah’s leader. In Libya, nonstate actors conducted ground operations to neutralize the threat posed by ISIS and al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) fighters and facilitators. The United States conducted precision airstrikes targeting ISIS cells in southern Libya, disrupting the group’s organizational presence in the South and eliminating key ISIS personnel. Most terrorist attacks in Libya during the year were conducted by ISIS.
Despite setbacks, AQ remained resilient and actively sought to reconstitute its capabilities and maintain safe havens amid fragile political and security climates, particularly in Egypt, Libya, Syria, and Yemen. For example, AQ and AQ-affiliated groups continued to operate in Idlib province in northwest Syria and AQ-aligned Ansar al-Islam also posed a threat in Egypt.
In Yemen, al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and ISIS’s Yemen branch continued to exploit the security vacuum created by the ongoing conflict between the Republic of Yemen Government and Iran-backed Houthi militants, while also contending with each other. Additionally, the IRGC-QF and Hizballah continued to take advantage of the conflict to destabilize the region, including by providing weapons and training to Houthi militants who committed attacks against neighboring states. AQAP used its tribal connections and public discontent with the Iran-backed Houthis to recruit new members, conduct attacks, and operate in areas of southern and central Yemen with relative impunity, although CT operations eliminated key leaders, pushed the group out of certain areas, and pressured the group’s networks. Though significantly smaller than AQAP, ISIS’s Yemen branch engaged in operations against AQAP and continued to claim attacks against Yemeni security forces and civilians, as well as Iran-backed Houthis.
Iran continued to use its IRGC-QF to advance its interests abroad, providing cover for intelligence operations, creating instability, and fomenting violence in the Middle East. In April, the U.S. Secretary of State designated the IRGC, including the Qods Force, as an FTO for the IRGC’s continued support to and engagement in terrorist activity around the world. This was the first time the United States ever designated part of another government as an FTO, reflecting that the Iranian regime is unique in using terrorism as a basic tool of its statecraft.
Among other malign activities, in September, Iran targeted some of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s most important oil-processing facilities, and Iran also continued to acknowledge the active involvement of the IRGC-QF in the conflicts in Iraq and Syria, the latter in support of the Assad regime. Through the IRGC-QF, Iran continued its support to several U.S.-designated terrorist groups, providing funding, training, weapons, and equipment. Among the groups receiving support from Iran are Hizballah, Hamas, Palestine Islamic Jihad, Kata’ib Hizballah (KH) in Iraq, and al-Ashtar Brigades in Bahrain. Iran also provided weapons and support to Shia militant groups in Iraq, to the Houthis in Yemen, and to the Taliban in Afghanistan. In December, KH launched a rocket attack on an Iraqi military base hosting U.S. and Coalition forces, killing one American civilian contractor and wounding several U.S. and Iraqi service members. In an immediate response to that attack, the United States carried out precision strikes against five targets associated with KH in Iraq and Syria. On December 31, Iran instigated an attack by demonstrators, including Iran-backed terrorists and militia members, on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, which resulted in damage to embassy property.
Countries in the Gulf region continued to take important steps to combat terrorism. Following the third U.S.-Qatar Counterterrorism Dialogue in November, the two governments declared fulfillment of their July 2017 Memorandum of Understanding largely complete and committed to set shared counterterrorism priorities for 2020. Saudi Arabia and the United States continued to co-lead the Terrorist Financing Targeting Center (TFTC), an initiative founded in 2017 to increase U.S.-Gulf multilateral collaboration to counter terrorist financing. In 2019, TFTC members imposed sanctions against individuals and entities affiliated with the Iranian regime’s terror-support networks in the Middle East. The ongoing rift between Qatar on one side and Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt on the other continued to strain regional cooperation and unity of effort, particularly on countering Iranian threats.
In the Levant, Jordan and Lebanon both remained committed partners to the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS. Several terrorist groups, most notably Hizballah, continued to operate in Lebanon throughout the year. Hizballah remained Iran’s most powerful terrorist partner and the most capable terrorist organization in Lebanon, controlling areas across the country. Iran’s annual financial backing to Hizballah – which in recent years has been estimated at $700 million – accounts for the overwhelming majority of the group’s annual budget. Hizballah’s presence in Lebanon and Syria continued to pose a threat to Israel. Israel published information in August about Hizballah’s efforts to produce precision-guided missiles (PGMs) within Lebanon. While Hizballah said it possessed enough PGMs for a confrontation with Israel, it denied missiles were being developed in Lebanon. Israel also uncovered and destroyed multiple tunnels dug by Hizballah under the border into Israel that could have been used for terrorist attacks between December 2018 and January 2019. Although Palestinian terrorist groups in Gaza and the West Bank continued to threaten Israel, Israeli and Palestinian Authority security forces continued their coordination in the West Bank in an effort to mitigate violence.
Overview: The United States and Algeria built on their CT partnership through regular dialogue and exchanges of technical expertise. Algeria continued its significant efforts to prevent terrorist activity within its borders and remains a difficult operating environment for terrorist groups. Algerian armed forces and internal security forces published figures that showed continued pressure on terrorist groups. In 2019, the Algerian government increased the number of arrests of terrorists or terrorist supporters compared with the previous year and undertook a comparable number of operations to destroy arms and terrorist hideouts. Some analysts assessed that Algeria’s steady drumbeat of sweeping operations substantially diminished the capacities of terrorist groups to operate within Algeria. AQIM, AQIM-allied groups, and ISIS’s Algeria branch – including elements of the local group known as Jund al-Khilafah in Algeria (or Soldiers of the Caliphate in Algeria) – remained in the country but were under considerable pressure by Algerian security authorities. These groups aspired to impose their interpretations of Islamic law in the region and to attack Algerian security services, local government targets, and Western commercial interests. Terrorist activity in Libya, Mali, Niger, and Tunisia – as well as human, weapons, and narcotics trafficking – contributed to the overall threat, particularly in border regions.
Algeria’s domestic efforts to defeat ISIS through counter-messaging and their capacity-building programs with neighboring states indirectly contribute to the Global Defeat-ISIS Coalition mission. Algeria is a member of the GCTF and co-chaired the GCTF’s West Africa Region Working Group.
2019 Terrorist Incidents: Neither AQIM nor ISIS conducted any attacks in Algeria in 2019, although media reported that, on January 16, an unidentified terrorist group killed a lone shepherd in Tarek Ibn Ziad, a mountainous area about two-and-a-half hours southwest of Algiers. Several clashes, however, took place between terrorists and security forces during sweeping operations in which AQIM and ISIS primarily used IEDs and small arms. Algerian armed forces clashed with terrorists in 2019 in the following operations:
- On November 6, Algerian forces killed three members of a terrorist group in Tipaza, west of Algiers. Five Algerian soldiers were reported killed in the skirmish.
- On November 18, Algerian forces killed two alleged ISIS members during an operation along the southern border with Mali. ISIS media outlets characterized the same incident as an attack killing eight Algerian troops.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: Algeria has made no significant changes to its CT legal framework since 2018. The Algerian government maintained its strict “no concessions” policy with regard to individuals or groups holding its citizens hostage.
Algerian military forces and multiple law enforcement, intelligence, and security services addressed counterterrorism, counter-intelligence, investigations, border security, and crisis response. These included the various branches of the Joint Staff, the Algerian army, 140,000 members of the National Gendarmerie, and border guards under the Ministry of National Defense (MND); and about 210,000 national police, or General Directorate of National Security, under the Ministry of Interior. Public information announcements from the MND provided timely reporting on incidents during which MND forces captured or eliminated terrorists and seized equipment, arms, ammunition caches, and drugs.
Border security remained a top priority.Media reported on continued cooperation between Algeria and Tunisia including a joint Algerian-Tunisian terrestrial and aerial force military operation against ISIS strongholds in the border area, resulting in the destruction of terrorist hideouts and homemade bombs. The Government of Algeria closely monitored passenger manifests of inbound and outbound flights. Algeria also has a national API and PNR strategy and is setting up an API/PNR commission. As of this year, Algeria has a Passenger Information Unit operating under the General Directorate of Customs. Government officials made active use of INTERPOL databases at ports of entry.
Algerian law enforcement agencies participated in training and exchanges offered by the U.S. government and by third countries. Algerian participants attended numerous workshops conducted under the GCTF, the UN, and other multilateral organizations.
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Algeria is a member of the MENAFATF. Its FIU, known as the Financial Intelligence Processing Unit, is a member of the Egmont Group.There were no significant updates in 2019.
Countering Violent Extremism: Algeria pursues a whole-of-government approach to CVE, including rehabilitation and reintegration programs for repentant terrorists. The regulation of mosques to ensure they are “de-politicized” and “de-ideologized” is a key aspect of the Algerian approach. Algeria acknowledges the crucial role of women and families in CVE efforts, and of its mourchidates, female Muslim clerics who work with young girls, mothers, and prisoners. The Algerian government monitors mosques for possible security-related offenses and prohibits the use of mosques as public meeting places outside of regular prayer hours. Government officials publicly affirm Algeria’s Sunni Maliki tradition of Islam, which they believe provides a “moderate” religious vision for the country. The government periodically imposes restrictions on other variants of Islam for failure to abide by administrative procedures required of all religious institutions.
International and Regional Cooperation: Algeria continued to support CT efforts through regional and multilateral organizations. As co-chair of the GCTF’s West Africa Region Capacity-Building Working Group, Algeria participated in joint working group meetings with other GCTF elements. Algeria has taken a leadership role in AFRIPOL, the Algiers-based AU mechanism for police cooperation, whose mandate is to enhance African police cooperation and prevent transnational crime and terrorism. In 2019, Algeria hosted the AFRIPOL general assembly and the first meeting of heads of national AFRIPOL liaison offices. Algeria also hosted the AU’s annual CVE focal point representatives meeting at the Algiers-based African Center for Study and Research on Terrorism.
Algeria continued diplomatic engagement to promote regional peace and security. Algeria remains chair of the implementation committee for the peace accord in Mali and continued to support the UN political process in Libya. Algeria also participated in various Sahel-Saharan fora to discuss development and security policies and the evolution of regional terrorism. Regional tensions between Morocco and Algeria remained an impediment to bilateral and regional CT cooperation in 2019.
Overview: There were no successful terrorist attacks in Bahrain in 2019, but domestic security forces conducted numerous operations to preempt and disrupt attack planning. The Government of Bahrain (GOB) is a member of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS and supported U.S. government counterterrorism efforts. Political relations between the predominantly Sunni-led government and Shia-majority opposition remained tense, exacerbated by the July execution of two Bahraini Shia convicted on terrorism charges. According to press and NGO reports, confessions are usually obtained through torture, and mistreatment and abuse of Shia persons by security forces continues. GOB initiated numerous programs intended to improve community and security force relations. Bahrain experienced periodic low-level violence in predominantly Bahraini Shia villages, usually to mark notable dates of importance, such as the anniversary of the 2011 political unrest.
2019 Terrorist Incidents: There were no terrorist attacks reported in Bahrain in 2019.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: In May, the GOB ratified amendments to Bahrain’s 2006 Anti-Terror Law that allows for penalties of up to five years in prison for encouraging or possessing materials that support “terrorist activities.”
Throughout the year, Bahrain continued to conduct security operations targeting suspected militants. Individuals apprehended during security raids were tried in Bahraini courts, and some were convicted of involvement in terrorism-related activities. In April, a Bahraini court sentenced to prison 139 Bahrainis, of whom 69 received life sentences (25 years), on terrorism charges; the court also ordered the revocation of their citizenships. The GOB accused the individuals of forming an organization it referred to as “Bahraini Hizballah” with the intention of carrying out attacks in Bahrain. Also in April, King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa restored the citizenship of 551 prisoners, some of whom were convicted of terrorism. On October 31, the judiciary issued life sentences to five nationals for “forming a terrorist cell” affiliated with al-Ashtar Brigades.
In July, Bahrain executed two individuals who were found guilty in January 2018 of involvement in terrorist operations that led to the death of a Ministry of Interior police officer in 2017. The executions prompted demonstrations particularly in Bahraini Shia villages, and one 22-year-old protester died from what the GOB said was natural causes. Subsequent protests in response to the youth’s death were non-violent.
Bahraini law enforcement agencies participated in training and technical assistance offered by the U.S. government.
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Bahrain is a member of MENAFATF. Its FIU, known as the Financial Intelligence Directorate, is a member of the Egmont Group. Bahrain is also a member of the Defeat ISIS Coalition’s CIFG and the Terrorist Financing Targeting Center (TFTC).
On August 28, the GOB convicted nine suspects of receiving and transferring funds to support terrorist activities; authorities handed down maximum jail terms of six years and imposed fines of up to $37,695.
On December 2, in collaboration with other TFTC member states, Bahrain imposed one round of sanctions against individuals and entities affiliated with the Iranian regime’s terror-support networks in the region.
As of December 2, Bahrain added “Hizballah of Bahrain, ISIS in Iraq and Syria, the 14 February Youth Coalition, al-Ashtar Brigades, People’s Resistance Brigades, al-Mukhtar Brigades, Bahrain Freedom Movement” to its terror list.
Countering Violent Extremism: The GOB continued its efforts to adopt a national strategy in line with the UN Secretary-General’s “Preventing Violent Extremism Plan of Action.” Additionally, numerous officials from the GOB and local NGOs developed programming targeting youth and other vulnerable populations.
The GOB attempted outreach through initiatives such as the community police, which bridges the divide between the Bahraini Shia community and police force. In March, the Interior Minister launched the “National Plan to Promote the Spirit of Belonging,” a program intended to foster a shared Bahraini identity. An executive committee was formed to oversee ministry activities under the initiative, also known as Bahrainuna (We are Bahrain).
There is no overall strategic messaging campaign to counter terrorist narratives, although GOB leaders often speak publicly about tolerance and reducing sectarian rhetoric. GOB restrictions on freedom of religion, expression, assembly, and association may also increase the likelihood of radicalization.
A large number of Bahraini Shia youths serving prison sentences related to crimes committed during Bahrain’s 2011 political unrest are expected to be released within the next several years. Prison conditions may increase the likelihood of radicalization.
International and Regional Cooperation: As of December 2019, members of the Bahrain Defense Force were deployed in Yemen as part of the Saudi-led coalition against the Iran-backed Houthi militants and al-Qai’da in the Arabian Peninsula. Bahrain is a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and the Arab League. Bahrain continued to offer its support for countering Iran’s malign activities in the region.
Overview: Nearly all terrorist attacks in Egypt took place in the Sinai Peninsula and largely targeted security forces, but terrorist attacks targeting civilians, tourists, and security personnel in mainland Egypt remained a concern. Though early 2019 witnessed a series of IED incidents in greater Cairo, those incidents became more infrequent as the year progressed.ISIS-Sinai Province (ISIS-SP) carried out the majority of the total attacks in 2019, though it claimed no attacks in mainland Egypt and no attacks against Western interests. ISIS-SP responded to ISIS’s call to increase attacks to avenge the terrorist group’s territorial defeat in Syria in March. ISIS-SP was the first affiliate to swear allegiance to the new self-proclaimed caliph in November. There were at least 151 IED-related attacks in Egypt in 2019, of which ISIS-SP conducted at least 137 in northern and central Sinai, along with near-weekly complex assaults on government-fortified positions, demonstrating the terrorist group’s freedom to maneuver during daytime hours and geographic expansion of attacks westward, toward the Suez Canal Zone, and southward. In addition, Harakat Sawa’d Misr (HASM) and al-Qa’ida allied groups such as Ansar al-Islam are believed to be behind the spate of anti-western attacks in mainland Egypt in 2019, and they also posed a continued threat.
While terrorist attacks primarily targeted Egyptian security personnel, civilians and foreigners were also targeted. Of note, terrorist groups carried out increased kidnappings and executions of individuals suspected of collaborating with the Egyptian government and military, particularly in April and June. Coptic Christians and other religious minorities continue to be targets for terrorist attacks.
As noted in the U.S. Department of State’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices and International Religious Freedom Report, NGOs continued to claim that authorities used counterterrorism and state-of-emergency laws and courts unjustly to prosecute journalists, activists, lawyers, political party members, university professors, and critics for exercising freedom of expression.
Egypt is a member of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS.
2019 Terrorist Incidents: Overall terrorist attack methods throughout Egypt included small arms attacks, IEDs, VBIEDs, kidnappings, executions, complex assaults, ambushes, and targeted assassinations. Notable terrorist incidents in 2019 included:
- On January 23, HASM claimed responsibility for a VBIED attack targeting security forces in Giza, which killed or wounded 10 soldiers.
- On February 16, ISIS-SP attacked a government checkpoint near Al-Arish in North Sinai, killing 15 security personnel.
- On February 20, security forces detected and safely diffused an IED in Cairo planted by unidentified militants.
- On March 7, suspected terrorists opened fire on a security checkpoint on the Ring Road in Giza, resulting in one soldier wounded and three militants killed.
- On March 26, ISIS-SP claimed responsibility for an attack against aid workers in North Sinai that killed 12 civilians.
- On May 19, for the second year in a row, unidentified terrorists detonated an IED under a tour bus carrying foreigners near the Great Pyramids at Giza.
- On June 25, ISIS attacked a police assembly center and at least three checkpoints near Al-Arish in North Sinai, killing 10 people and wounding eight others.
- On July 16, ISIS-SP beheaded four individuals, whom the group claimed were informants for the Egyptian Armed Forces, near Bir al-Abd in North Sinai.
- On August 4, a VBIED detonated in front of the National Cancer Institute in Cairo. The Egyptian government blamed HASM, though the group denied responsibility.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: In March, the Egyptian Parliament’s legislative committee approved new amendments to the 2015 Anti-Terrorism Law, increasing the punishment to 10 years in prison for those who promote “extremist” ideology as defined by Egyptian law. The punishment was increased to a minimum of 15 years if the promotion of “extremist” ideology was made at places of worship, public places, among members of the Armed Forces or the police, or in places allocated for these forces. Parliament is expected to pass these amendments, and President Sisi is then expected to ratify them in 2020.
In October, the Egyptian Parliament formed a new counterterrorism committee to revise national legislation and enable a more effective strategy against those who commit terrorist acts as defined by Egyptian law. This committee will propose amendments to existing legislation that gives law enforcement agencies additional powers to fight terrorism and accelerate trials of suspects charged with terrorist attacks. The committee will also make recommendations for religious and educational establishments, to include upgrading school curricula and removing content that might indirectly contribute to the “radicalization” of Egyptians.
Egypt’s most significant physical border security concerns remained Libya, Sudan, and Gaza. At border crossings and airports, Egyptian authorities continued to check for the presence of security features in travel documents. They also conducted checks of some individuals and shared derogatory information across the Egyptian Border Guard. Egypt maintains a terrorist watchlist for Egyptian immigration officials at the ports of entry, with detailed information maintained by the security services. The United States assisted Egypt’s CT efforts by providing training, equipment, and other assistance to its law enforcement security services, as well as to the Egyptian Ministry of Defense.
In July, British Airways and Lufthansa temporarily suspended flights to Egypt, citing unspecified security concerns, but resumed flights after one week and one day, respectively. In October, the United Kingdom lifted restrictions on flights to Sharm el-Sheikh for the first time since flights were banned in November 2015 following the downing of a Russian Metrojet airliner in an attack claimed by ISIS-SP.
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Egypt is a member of MENAFATF. Its FIU, the Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing Combating Unit, is a member of the Egmont Group and the National Council of Payments. Egypt is also a member of the Defeat ISIS Coalition’s CIFG. There were no significant updates in 2019.
Countering Violent Extremism: The government continued its ongoing CVE efforts in 2019. In January, the Ministry of Islamic Endowments (Awqaf) inaugurated an academy to train imams and preachers and brought together 130 ministers of endowments and muftis from around the world for a conference to counter “extremist narratives” and promote pluralism. Al-Azhar continued to publish statements promoting tolerance and in January introduced several new academic textbooks focusing on the relationship between Muslims and Christians and promoting equal rights between the two religions. In February, Pope Francis and Grand Imam Ahmed El-Tayyeb signed a historic document pledging fraternity between the Vatican and Al-Azhar to work together to fight “extremism.” Al-Azhar additionally cooperated with the Arab League to continue organizing conferences focused on countering terrorist radicalization and recruitment.
The Ministry of Awqaf additionally focused on bridging the divide between Muslims and Christians, bringing together representatives from both faiths to debate issues of mutual concern in an effort to address sectarian issues, particularly in Upper Egypt.
Dar al-Iftaa, an official body associated with Al-Azhar that issues religious edicts, focused its efforts on rejecting “extremist” ideology. In an effort to counter ISIS, which in the past has demolished several shrines, Dar al-Iftaa published a fatwa saying that praying in a mosque with a shrine annexed to it was commendable in Islam, despite other fatwas contrary to this position.
The Cairo Center for Conflict Resolution and Peacekeeping in Africa (CCCPA) continued training through its Preventing Radicalization and Extremism Leading to Terrorism (PRELT) program, which aims to prevent the proliferation of “extremist ideology.” CCCPA trained 21 Arab women leaders in refuting “extremist interpretations” of religion and developing alternative religious narratives, and it hosted an advanced PRELT training for Sahel religious leaders.
The World Organization for Al-Azhar Graduates held a July workshop for Libyan imams and preachers with Azhari senior scholars on combating “extremism” and promoting moderate Islam. In October, a similar event was held on promoting tolerance.
Despite measures taken by the Egyptian government – such as establishing parameters to identify individuals vulnerable to recruitment and offering training and religious guidance to inmates – concerns persisted that Egyptian prisons continue to be a fertile environment for terrorist recruitment and radicalization.
International and Regional Cooperation: Egypt continued to support CT efforts through regional and multilateral organizations, including through the GCTF. Egypt currently co-chairs the GCTF East Africa Working Group with the EU. As Chair of the Peace and Security Council of the AU, Egypt regularly prioritized CT issues including during their ASWAN Forum.
Overview: Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) remained in nominal control of territory liberated from ISIS. ISIS continued to present a serious threat to Iraqi stability, undertaking targeted assassinations of police and local political leaders and using IEDs and shooting attacks directed at both government and government-associated civilian targets, in support of a violent campaign to reestablish a caliphate. ISIS sought to reestablish support among populations in Ninewa, Kirkuk, Diyala, Salah ad Din, and Anbar provinces, especially in the areas of disputed control between the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and the federal government, where the division of responsibility for local security is unclear. Although ISIS maintained the capability to conduct deadly terrorist attacks in Iraq, these attacks resulted in fewer casualties in 2019 than in previous years. Attacks by Iran-backed Shia militia groups on Iraqi bases hosting U.S. and Defeat-ISIS Coalition forces increased in 2019, killing and wounding American and Iraqi servicemembers. The Iran-backed, U.S.-designated KH continued to operate in Iraq and in some cases sought to enter local politics by backing provincial candidates. The Government of Iraq issued Executive Order 237 which required all Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), including those backed by Iran, to operate as an indivisible part of the armed forces and be subject to the same regulations; however, many of these groups continued to defy central government command and control and engaged in violent and destabilizing activities in Iraq and neighboring Syria, including attacks on and abductions of civilian protesters. The Kurdistan Workers Party (commonly known as the PKK), a terrorist group headquartered in the mountains of northern Iraq, continued to conduct attacks in Turkey.
Iraq is a pivotal member of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS and a participant in all Coalition Working Groups (Foreign Terrorist Fighters, Counter-ISIS Finance Group, Stabilization, and Communications).
2019 Terrorist Incidents: According to the Federal Intelligence and Investigation Agency within Iraq’s Ministry of Interior, acts of terrorism, violence, and armed conflict with ISIS killed more than 534 civilians and injured more than 1,121 in 2019 as of December 1. This was a decrease from 2018, when roughly 900 civilians died and 1,600 were injured. ISIS continued to carry out suicide and hit-and-run attacks throughout the country with 844 attacks during the year. The most significant of these was a bus bombing in September that killed 12 Iraqis near the major pilgrimage site of Karbala. In addition, Iran-backed Shia militia groups are believed to be responsible for more than a dozen rocket or indirect fire attacks targeting U.S. or Coalition targets in Iraq in 2019, including the December 27 attack in which KH launched more than 30 rockets at an Iraqi base hosting U.S. forces in Kirkuk, killing one American contractor and wounding several American and Iraqi service members. Other prominent terrorist attacks included:
- On January 11, a VBIED detonated in a market in al-Qa’im, on the Syrian border in western Anbar, killing two civilians and injuring 25 others.
- ISIS targeted truffle hunters mostly in Anbar province, kidnapping more than 44. On June 1, nine bodies were found west of the town of Rutba, some 300 kilometers west of Anbar’s provincial capital Ramadi.
- On November 8, a car bomb exploded near a restaurant in Mosul, Ninewa governorate, killing 13 people and wounding 23 others.
- On November 16, an IED exploded in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square where anti-government protesters gathered. There were no reported casualties.
- On November 29, ISIS attacked Kurdish security force (Kulajo Asayish) headquarters in Kifri district, Diyala governorate, killing three Asayish members, including the unit’s director.
- On December 4, an ISIS tactical element comprising 10 to 15 members conducted an attack against the Ministry of Peshmerga’s 3rd Regional Guard Brigade, killing three and wounding two others.
- On December 31, Iran-backed Shia militia groups, including KH, participated in an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, which resulted in significant damage to embassy property. There were no embassy casualties and security personnel used less-than-lethal countermeasures to repulse intruders.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: Iraq made no significant changes to its counterterrorism legal and law enforcement framework in 2019.
Border security remained a critical capability gap, as the ISF has limited capability to fully secure Iraq’s borders with Syria and Iran. While border security along the periphery of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region (IKR) is robust and administered by various security units under the Kurdish Minister of Interior, the border with Syria south of the IKR remained porous and vulnerable to ISIS and other terrorist networks, as well as to smuggling and other criminal enterprises. Iran-backed PMF units continued to maintain a presence at Iraq’s major border crossings. The Iraqi government re-opened the Iraq-Syria border crossing in al-Qa’im under Border Police control, though various PMF units positioned themselves to the north and south of the main checkpoint.
Iraq and the United States partnered to close a gap in border security through broader deployment of and upgrades to the U.S.-provided PISCES. The Ministry of Interior shared biometric information upon request on known and suspected terrorists and shared exemplars of its identity documents with the United States, INTERPOL, and other international partners, though there remained no agreement or arrangement in place that would support the implementation of an intended U.S. program to facilitate biometric information-sharing on both terrorist and criminal suspects. In the Disputed Internal Boundaries, ISIS continues to exploit the security vacuum between Iraqi Security Forces and Peshmerga Forces. Recent attacks in the northern Diyala and activities along Qarachogh Mountain indicate ISIS presence. Counterterrorism efforts in the Disputed Internal Boundaries areas have been hampered by the lack of coordination between Peshmerga and ISF, mainly due to the relationship between the KRG and the Government of Iraq. Additionally, Iraq has taken preliminary steps to partner with UNITAD in the collection of digital, documentary, testimonial, and forensic evidence to support the prosecution of ISIS members for their atrocity crimes committed in Iraq.
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Iraq is a member of MENAFATF. Iraq is also a member of the Defeat-ISIS Coalition’s CIFG. In 2019, the IKR began setting up its own AML/CFT Committee that will coordinate across relevant KRG ministries and work with the IKR’s Terrorism Finance Unit.
The Government of Iraq – including the Central Bank of Iraq, law enforcement, security forces, and the judiciary – continued to dismantle ISIS’s financial networks and safeguard Iraq’s financial institutions from exploitation by ISIS. Efforts include:
- Iraq cooperates closely with the U.S. government on multiple U.S. designations under U.S. CT authorities.
- Iraqi and Kurdish agencies coordinating actions with the U.S. Departments of Defense and the Treasury against Afaq Dubai to disrupt and curtail ISIS’s logistical infrastructure and its ability to generate, store, and use funds for recruiting and paying its fighters and for its operations.
- Iraq shared a list of banned exchange houses and money transfer companies with regional regulators and tasking judicial action against more than a dozen individuals and companies suspected of illicit financial activity. These actions ranged from business closures to arrests of suspects.
Countering Violent Extremism: Iraq remained active in its strategic messaging to discredit ISIS, including through its membership in the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS Communications Working Group, and engaged with U.S. military and civilian counterparts to develop a wide range of capabilities to build national cohesion and combat terrorist ideology. The Government of Iraq and the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS also implemented stabilization, reconciliation, and accountability programs to strengthen locals’ ability to counter terrorist radicalization and recruitment.
Many Iraqi ISIS fighters remained in Iraqi custody, along with ISIS-affiliated foreign women and children. Iraq acknowledged that the return and reintegration of family members of suspected ISIS supporters, as well as the provision of fair and equal justice, are important to prevent future terrorist radicalization and violence. However, more than 1.4 million Iraqis remain displaced within Iraq, and more than 30,000 – mainly women and children – reside in the al-Hawl IDP camp in Syria. Iraq publicly stated it has no intention of housing Iraqi ISIS fighters with the general prison populations in Iraqi prisons. The lack of separate, secure detention facilities within Iraq delayed Iraqi efforts to repatriate additional Iraqi fighters detained abroad.
International and Regional Cooperation: Iraq continued to work with multilateral and regional organizations – including the UN, the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, NATO, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, INTERPOL, and the Arab League – to support CT efforts.
Overview: Israel was a committed counterterrorism partner in 2019, closely coordinating with the United States on a range of counterterrorism initiatives. Israel and the United States held numerous interagency counterterrorism dialogues to discuss the broad range of threats in the Middle East and to determine areas of collaboration to address these challenges. This included the annual meeting of the U.S.-Israel Joint Counterterrorism Group, which was launched in the early 1990s and is our longest-standing strategic counterterrorism dialogue.
Israel faced threats from the north from Hizballah and along the northeastern frontier from Hizballah and other Iran-backed groups, including about 150,000 rockets aimed at Israel. Israeli officials expressed concern that Iran was supplying Hizballah with advanced weapons systems and technologies, as well as assisting the group in creating infrastructure that would permit it to indigenously produce rockets, missiles, and drones to threaten Israel from Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, or Yemen.
To the south, Israel faced threats from terrorist organizations including Hamas, Palestine Islamic Jihad (PIJ), and ISIS-Sinai. Rocket attacks originating from Gaza resulted in four deaths and dozens of injuries in 2019.
2019 Terrorist Incidents: Israel experienced numerous terrorist attacks in 2019 involving weapons ranging from rockets and mortars to small arms and knives. The following is a partial list of terrorist incidents that occurred in 2019:
- On February 7, an assailant violently assaulted and stabbed to death 19-year-old Ori Ansbacher in the EinYael forest near Jerusalem. Police arrested Arafat Irfiya, a 29-year-old Palestinian man from Hebron and reported he admitted the attack was “nationalistically motivated.”
- Hamas and other terrorist groups including PIJ launched more than 1,000 rockets and mortar shells from Gaza toward Israel during the year, some of which landed in civilian areas.For details, see “West Bank and Gaza” section below.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: Israel has a robust legal framework to combat terrorism and promote international legal assistance in the investigation and prosecution of terrorists. In December, the defense minister signed the first executive order placing economic restrictions on assets of an individual connected to terrorism: Mohammad Jamil, a Hamas activist living in the United Kingdom.
Israeli security forces took numerous significant law enforcement actions against suspected terrorists and terrorist groups. The following examples represent some of the law enforcement actions taken in 2019:
- On October 28, Border Police officers arrested two ISIS members who planned a terrorist attack either in Jerusalem or against an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) army base in the Jordan Valley with the intention to kill as many civilians and military personnel as possible.
- In June, Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) arrested an Israeli Bedouin supporter of Hamas, who planned to bomb a hotel in southern Ashdod.
- On August 6, Israeli security forces arrested three members of a Hamas bomb team, thwarting a major plot targeting Jerusalem.
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Israel remains a full member of the FATF. Israel’s FIU, the Israeli Money Laundering and Terror Finance Prohibition Authority, is a member of the Egmont Group.
In accordance with the Israeli Deduction Law, the Ministry of Defense announced in February 2019 that it would withhold $138 million ($12 million a month) from monthly tax revenue Israel collects and transfers to the Palestinian Authority (PA), which is the amount Israel determined the PA paid in 2018 to Palestinians connected to terrorism, including Palestinian terrorists in Israeli prison and released Palestinian terrorists. The PA responded to Israel’s withholding by refusing to accept any of its remaining tax revenues from Israel, representing about 65 percent of the PA’s budget. As the PA’s fiscal situation worsened, the PA eventually agreed in October 2019 to accept its remaining tax revenues.
In December 2019, Israel announced that it would withhold an additional $43 million from PA revenues for payments the PA provided during 2018 to families of Palestinians who were wounded or died while committing terrorist acts or in connection with terrorism. Israel also seized funds the PA paid to eight Israeli Arabs convicted of terrorism and their families. The PA argues these payments are social payments for families who have lost their primary breadwinner. The United States and Israel argue the payments incentivize and reward terrorism, with higher monthly payments for lengthier prison sentences tied to more severe crimes.
Countering Violent Extremism: The Ministry of Public Security supported and funded Israel’s flagship City Without Violence initiative. One hundred fifty-one municipalities implemented education and social welfare projects to counter violence, crime, and terrorism. The program emphasized partnerships with the Israel National Police, with the goal of reducing violence and increasing citizen-police communication.
The president of Israel’s initiative, Israeli Hope, in cooperation with government ministries, established a sustainable partnership across different segments of Israeli society, focusing on projects ranging from education to employment to sports. The sports initiative, with the cooperation of the Ministry of Culture and Sports, implemented programs aimed at countering racism and reducing violence in collaboration with professional soccer clubs and players.
International and Regional Cooperation: According to media reports, Israeli intelligence helped Denmark foil a series of terror attacks, resulting in 22 arrests in December. Other media reports stated that Israeli intelligence officials helped foil more than 50 terrorist attacks planned worldwide by Iran and its proxies, as well as by ISIS, during the 2017-2019 period.
Overview: The Palestinian Authority continued its counterterrorism and law enforcement efforts in the West Bank, where Hamas, PIJ, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) remained active. PA officials continued to make inconsistent statements about a commitment to non-violence. The PA security forces constrained the ability of terrorist organizations and individuals to conduct attacks, in part by arrests targeting those planning attacks against Israelis. Per Oslo-era agreements, the PA exercised varying degrees of authority over the West Bank owing to the presence of IDF in certain areas, as well as frequent Israeli entry into PA-controlled areas for counterterrorism operations. The IDF and Shin Bet also arrested individuals and members of terrorist organizations operating in the West Bank.
The United States continued to coordinate with PA security forces in counterterrorism efforts. U.S. advisory support assisted the PA as it continued to develop professional security forces capable of some, but not all, counterterrorism functions.
The number of Palestinian terrorist attacks against Israelis in the West Bank in 2019 was in line with rates in recent years and lower than rates during the heightened period of violence from October 2015 to April 2016. Methods employed included stabbings, shootings, bombings, and vehicular attacks.
Some Israelis committed retaliatory “price tag” attacks involving property crimes and other violent acts against Palestinians in the West Bank in 2019. For example, in November 2019, “price tag” attacks were reported in multiple Palestinian villages in which vehicles were vandalized and olive tree groves were destroyed.
Hamas maintained control of Gaza in 2019. Several militant groups, including Hamas and PIJ, launched rocket attacks against Israel from Gaza, including significant attacks against Israel in May. PIJ led other large attacks against Israel in November and members of PIJ committed suicide attacks against Hamas civil police. During weekly protests at the Israel-Gaza security fence with Israel, Palestinians threw Molotov cocktails and IEDs, and they launched incendiary balloons and devices towards Israel, damaging farms and nature preserves. According to the head of Israel’s Eshkol regional council, the total damage in 2019 was estimated at $3.46 million. Hamas and PIJ terror tunneling activities continued.
2019 Terrorist Incidents: The following are representative examples of some of the terrorist incidents:
- Hamas and other terrorist groups including PIJ launched more than 1,000 rockets and mortar shells from Gaza toward Israel during the year, some of which landed in civilian areas. The IDF confirmed that the Iron Dome, Israel’s air defense system, intercepted most of these projectiles.
- In March, a rocket from Gaza hit a house in Kfar Saba, injuring seven people including grandparents and three children.
- Also in March, at the Ariel junction in the West Bank, a Palestinian stabbed an IDF soldier, grabbed his weapon, and shot him. As he escaped, the assailant shot and killed a civilian and wounded another soldier before briefly escaping and ultimately being killed in a shootout with the IDF.
- In May, during a barrage of 690 rockets and mortars from Gaza, six Israelis were killed. In July, a Palestinian man crashed his car into a group of five IDF soldiers and wounded them near the Hizma check point.
- In August, Palestinians detonated a homemade bomb in a public area near Ramallah, killing an Israeli teenager and wounding her father and brother. According to Shin Bet, the suspects were members of the PFLP.
- Also in August, two suicide bombers detonated themselves near police checkpoints in Gaza City, killing three police officers and wounding three other Palestinians.
- Also in August, two Palestinian men were arrested for stabbing to death an 18-year-old Yeshiva student near Gush Etzion Junction.
- During November 12-13, 562 rockets and mortars were fired from Gaza into Israel, forcing schools to close and civilians to take shelter in affected areas.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: The PA lacked comprehensive legislation specifically tailored to counterterrorism, although existing Palestinian laws criminalize actions that constitute terrorist acts. Presidential decrees prohibit incitement to violence, illegal associations, providing financial support to terrorist groups, and acts that run counter to Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) agreements with other states (an indirect reference to the Oslo Accords with Israel). The Palestinian legislature, the Palestinian Legislative Council, was dissolved in December 2018 and is therefore unable to pass new laws. Governance is managed by presidential decree. NGOs claimed that at times the PA made arbitrary arrests based on political acts and affiliation, including criticism of the PA online.
The Preventive Security Organization is the key PA institution that works to prevent West Bank terrorist attacks and investigates security-related criminal conduct. In practice, the General Intelligence Organization also plays a critical role in this effort, as does, to a lesser extent, the Military Intelligence Organization.
Per previous agreements, Israel retained control of border security across the West Bank and general security throughout Area C, which encompasses a majority of the West Bank.
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: The PA is a member of MENAFATF, a Financial Action Task Force-style regional body, and will next be reviewed in 2020. The Palestinian Financial Follow-Up Unit (FFU) is the PA’s FIU. Banks file suspicious transaction reports (STRs) and currency transaction reports electronically through the FFU computer system. In 2019, banks, law enforcement agencies, and other entities filed approximately 160 STRs (year to date, December 11, 2019) compared with 124 in 2018.
In 2019, the Palestinian Monetary Authority launched a new banking system, titled Know Your Customer, designed to help keep track of the sources and recipients of financial transactions to facilitate transparency, ensure customs duty collection, and comply with anti-money laundering laws.
Countering Violent Extremism: Official PA media, TV, and social media accounts affiliated with the ruling political movement Fatah have featured content praising or condoning acts of terrorism, and Palestinian leaders did not consistently publicly condemn individual terrorist attacks. President Mahmoud Abbas has stated in the past a commitment to non-violence, a two-state solution, and previous PLO commitments, but he has also made inconsistent statements that appear to contradict and undermine his prior commitments. Abbas said on Palestinian media on March 24, “We want to achieve our right and our state peacefully…We will not choose a path other than negotiations to achieve our right.” But according to translation by MEMRI, Abbas said on August 10, “So we say to them: ‘Every stone you [used] to build on our land and every house you have built on our land is bound to be destroyed, Allah willing…Jerusalem is ours whether they like it or not… We shall enter Jerusalem – millions of fighters! We shall enter it! All of us, the entire Palestinian people, the entire Arab nation, the Islamic nation, and the Christian nation… They shall all enter Jerusalem…’”
International and Regional Cooperation: PA justice, security leaders, and PA security force personnel continued to participate in regional conferences and meetings to combat terrorism.
Overview: Jordan remained a committed partner on CT in 2019. As a regional leader in the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, Jordan played an important role in Coalition successes in degrading the terrorist group. Jordan continued to face a persistent threat of terrorist activity both domestically and along its borders, owing in part to its proximity to regional conflicts in Iraq and Syria and the state’s official rejection of Salafi-Jihadi interpretations of Islam. Terrorist entities continue to express interest in attacking both “hard” and “soft” targets, such as high-profile public events, hotels, tourist locations, and Jordanian security services. The most notable terrorist incident in 2019 was the November 6 attack targeting foreign tourists in Jerash. Jordanian security forces thwarted several plots and apprehended numerous terrorists; however, coordination among Jordan’s security services for terrorism response capabilities and prevention remains a challenge, but it continues to improve.
Border security remains an overarching priority for the Jordanian government, given fears that violence from the conflict in neighboring Syria will spill over into its territory. There were many Jordanian nationals among FTFs in Iraq and Syria, and the threat of domestic radicalization, especially online, remains. Returning FTFs are an ongoing concern for Jordan’s security services. As a member of the GCTF, Jordan continued to be a committed partner on FTF issues in 2019 as co-chair with the United States of the GCTF FTF Working Group.
2019 Terrorist Incidents: On November 6, a 22-year old Palestinian from a nearby refugee camp stabbed eight people, including four foreign tourists, in Jerash, one of Jordan’s most popular tourism sites.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: Jordan made no significant changes to its counterterrorism legal framework in 2019.
The General Intelligence Directorate (GID) is the primary government agency responsible for counterterrorism. It operates with support from various elements within the Jordan Armed Forces, the Public Security Directorate, and the Gendarmerie. The Jordanian government continued to implement measures and conduct joint exercises to improve interagency coordination among security agencies during responses to terrorism-related events. Enhanced overt security measures are in place across Jordan, most visibly at hotels and shopping malls.
Jordanian security services disrupted a number of terrorist plots in various stages of operational planning. While successful interdictions showcase the government’s efforts, they come in response to attempts to conduct terrorist operations in Jordan from a variety of terrorist groups or individuals with terrorist aspirations, including those inspired by ISIS and al-Qa’ida. On November 12, the Jordanian newspaper Al-Rai reported that the GID thwarted terrorist operations of two suspects who planned to target employees of the U.S. and Israeli embassies, as well as U.S. soldiers at a military base in the Jafr region. The GID reportedly arrested the two suspects in July, and their trial in the State Security Court (SSC) began in early November. The SSC sentenced one of the suspects to eight years in prison for threatening to attack the Israeli Embassy in Amman. The SSC also convicted several detainees on terrorism charges. Sentences ranged from three years to life in prison with hard labor.
In 2019, Jordan did not extradite Ahlam Aref Ahmad Al-Tamimi, a Jordanian national in her mid-30s, who has been charged in the United States with conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction against U.S. nationals outside the United States resulting in death. The charge is related to her participation in the August 9, 2001, suicide bomb attack at a pizzeria in Jerusalem that killed 15 people, including two U.S. nationals. Four other U.S. nationals were among the approximately 122 others injured in the attack. Following publication of the 2018 Country Reports on Terrorism, Foreign Minister Ayman al-Safadi confirmed that U.S. authorities asked Jordan to extradite Tamimi, and he expressed the view that Jordan’s constitution does not allow the extradition of a Jordanian citizen to a third country. The United States regards the extradition treaty with Jordan as valid and in force.
Jordan continued to reinforce its border defenses and surveillance capabilities in response to terrorist and criminal threats emanating from its 230-mile border with Syria and 112-mile border with Iraq.
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Jordan is a member of MENAFATF. Its FIU, known as the Anti-Money Laundering and Counter Terrorist Financing Unit, is a member of the Egmont Group. Jordan is also a member of the Defeat-ISIS Coalition’s CIFG. MENAFATF completed its mutual evaluation of Jordan in 2019; while not published before the end of 2019, the report contained several recommendations to enhance its AML/CFT regime.
Countering Violent Extremism: Jordan is implementing a national strategy on preventing violent extremism coordinated by an office within the Prime Ministry. Priority areas for engagement include countering terrorist ideology, building social cohesion among civil society, and assisting law enforcement. Officials regularly engage experts on topics such as the role of women and girls in terrorism prevention, and the monitoring and evaluation of local conditions conducive to terrorism. Civil society organizations have undertaken work across the country to address causes of terrorism and offer positive alternatives to youth through activities that build critical thinking skills, encourage civic participation, increase awareness of online safety, and address the needs of returning terrorist fighters and their families. Irbid, Karak, and Zarqa are members of the SCN and worked to develop capacity in local communities to prevent violence and build community cohesion.
Jordan, in partnership with the United States, held the first Aqaba Process Tech Meeting to counter terrorism online in February 2019 in Napa, California, which included governments, technology companies, international organizations, civil society, and academics. Jordan held a follow-up Aqaba Process meeting in Amman in June that likewise focused on countering terrorist use of the internet. In September, Jordan co-sponsored with New Zealand and France at the United Nations the high-level “Leaders Dialogue: Strategic Responses to Terrorist and Violent Extremist Narratives.”
International and Regional Cooperation: Jordan is a major non-NATO ally and founding member of the GCTF. It is a member of the United Nations, the Arab League, the Organization for Islamic Cooperation, the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism, and the Proliferation Security Initiative. Jordan also participates in the UN’s Group of Friends of Preventing Violent Extremism.
Overview: During 2019, the Government of Kuwait participated in or conducted a significant number of training programs to build CT capacity and to counter terrorism financing. Kuwait is a regional leader in the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, part of the Defeat-ISIS Coalition Small Group, and co-leads (with Turkey and the Netherlands) the Coalition’s Foreign Terrorist Fighters Working Group.
2019 Terrorist Incidents: There were no terrorist incidents reported in Kuwait in 2019.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: Throughout 2019, Kuwaiti government officials participated in several CT capacity-building workshops. Several of these were supported by the U.S. Department of State and implemented through the U.S. Department of Justice Overseas Prosecutorial Development Assistance and Training program. In February, the Kuwaiti Public Prosecutor’s office participated in a workshop on Best Practices in Cyber Investigations and Prosecutions. In March, the Ministry of Interior and the Kuwait State Security trained on FTF-related investigations. In April, Kuwait hosted the GCC Regional Cyber Investigations Conference with attendees from 26 entities across the Gulf and several domestic Kuwaiti entities, many focused on CFT. In October, the FIU and the National Committee for Combatting Money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism participated in a seminar on money laundering and countering the funding of terrorism. Kuwait also concentrated on law enforcement and judicial capacity building across a broad spectrum of government agencies.
In July, the Kuwait state news agency reported that the Ministry of Interior had deported eight Egyptian citizens who were wanted in Egypt for terrorism-related convictions.
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Kuwait is a member of MENAFATF. Its FIU, known as the Kuwaiti Financial Intelligence Unit , is a member of the Egmont Group. Kuwait is also a member of the Defeat-ISIS Coalition’s CIFG and the TFTC.
In collaboration with other TFTC member states, in 2019 Kuwait imposed one round of sanctions against individuals and entities affiliated with the Iranian regime’s terror-support networks in the region.
Countering Violent Extremism: Kuwait’s Ministry of Education continued to implement a program to fight what it viewed as extremist ideologies at public schools through teacher-training and student-counseling programs. As part of the government’s National Plan to Reinforce Moderation, the Ministry of Information runs a television channel with programming aimed at audiences believed to be at higher risk of radicalization. The Kuwait Moderation Center, which operates under the supervision of the Ministry of Religious Endowments, sponsored a variety of programs designed to promote religious tolerance, including establishing working groups to reduce sectarian conflict, holding symposia on protecting the rights of non-Muslims in a Muslim society, and a program in the school system to promote diversity and tolerance and combat sectarianism. The Moderation Center continued a program to enable social salon (diwaniya) hosts to invite religious scholars to join in discussions with attendees and counter the potential presence of radicalizing influences. The center also sponsored radio programs to promote tolerance among youth. In December, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs sponsored a workshop titled “The Concept of Extremism and its Reflection on Society.” More effective measures are needed to prevent charitable donations being routed to regional terrorist groups or support for educational and religious advocacy efforts that encourage discrimination and violence. Kuwait is looking to better monitor charitable donations that might be used to support terrorist elements.
International and Regional Cooperation: During 2019, Kuwait served as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council for the second year of its two-year term. Kuwait remained an active member of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS Small Group, participating in a number of ministerial-level meetings throughout the year. Kuwait has also long been an active member of the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. As a member of the GCC, Kuwait has played a leading role in the effort to mediate the dispute between Qatar and other GCC members.
Overview: Lebanon remains a committed partner in the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS.
Terrorist groups operating in Lebanon included Hizballah, ISIS, Hamas, and the Abdullah Azzam Brigades. Of these, the Lebanon-based and Iran-backed terrorist group Hizballah remained the most capable. In August 2019, Israel publicly released information about Hizballah’s efforts to produce precision-guided missiles (PGMs) within Lebanon. Hizballah announced that the group possessed enough PGMs for a confrontation with Israel but denied that it was developing PGM factories in Lebanon. Between December 2018 and January 2019, Israel uncovered and destroyed multiple tunnels dug by Hizballah under the border into Israel that could have been used for terrorist attacks.
Despite the Lebanese government’s official policy of disassociation from regional conflicts, Hizballah continued its military role in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen, in collaboration with the Iranian regime. Separately, Lebanon’s 12 Palestinian refugee camps remained largely outside the control of Lebanese security forces and posed a security threat because of the potential for militant recruitment and terrorist infiltration. In addition, several individuals on the FBI’s most wanted list or listed by the State or Treasury Departments as Specially Designated Global Terrorists reportedly remained in Lebanon.
2019 Terrorist Incidents:
- On June 3, Abdel Rahman Mabsout, a lone Lebanese gunman associated with ISIS, attacked a police patrol in Tripoli and killed two Internal Security Forces (ISF) officers and two Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) soldiers before killing himself after being cornered by security forces. The attacker was previously arrested in 2016 for fighting for ISIS in Syria and imprisoned in Lebanon but was released in late 2017.
- On September 1, Hizballah launched three guided antitank missiles across the border into Israel at an IDF vehicle. The missiles did not cause any casualties.
- Hizballah continued to plan attacks around the world, as detailed in other sections of this report.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: Lebanon does not have a comprehensive counterterrorism law, but several articles of Lebanon’s criminal code are effectively used to prosecute acts of terrorism. No new laws related to terrorism were passed in 2019. The LAF, ISF, the Directorate of General Security (DGS), and the General Directorate of State Security were the primary government agencies responsible for counterterrorism. Although cooperation among the services was inconsistent, they took steps to improve information sharing and were receptive to additional capacity building and reforms. Structural limitations in the justice system remained a barrier for conducting trials for terrorism cases in a timely manner.
The LAF held primary responsibility for securing Lebanon’s land and maritime borders, while DGS and Customs were responsible for official points of entry. The LAF improved its ability to control Lebanon’s land border with Syria through the Land Border Security Project funded by the United States, the UK, and Canada. This project resulted in greater control of the border and the arrest of ISIS members entering Lebanon from Syria. In February, the LAF arrested a Palestinian affiliated with the al-Nusrah Front for his role in fighting taking place inside the Ein el-Hilweh Refugee Camp.
Lebanon collected biographic data for travelers at the Beirut International Airport, as well as API and PNR data for commercial flights. The United States worked with Lebanon to develop a central repository to process and share biometric data among Lebanese services. In 2019, Lebanese security services collaborated with the United States on numerous instances to foil terrorist plots and investigate and apprehend individuals involved in terrorism.
The presence of Hizballah in the Lebanese government was an impediment to effective host government action against terrorist incidents.For instance, the government took no action to hold Hizballah accountable for its rocket attack on Israel in September or the cross-border tunnels, and prevented the UN Interim Force in Lebanon from fully investigating these incidents by failing to provide access to the areas where these incidents occurred. In international fora, Lebanon argued that acts taken against what it characterized as “foreign occupation” are not terrorism, in an attempt to justify Hizballah’s violence against Israel.
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Lebanon is a member of MENAFATF. Its FIU, known as the Special Investigation Commission (SIC), is a member of the Egmont Group. Lebanon is also a member of the Defeat-ISIS Coalition’s CIFG.
In 2019, the SIC took actions to comply with new U.S. sanctions against a number of Hizballah members and financers, including the sanctioning of Jammal Trust Bank for providing financial services to Hizballah. Lebanon also designated several individuals and entities on its national terrorism-financing list established pursuant to UNSCR 1373/2001 and proposed several designations to the UNSCR 1267/2253 Sanctions Committee. Lebanese authorities were still compiling specific statistics on such actions at year’s end.
During the first nine months of the year, the SIC received 12 terrorism and terrorism-financing cases from local sources, out of which six cases were referred to the general prosecutor. The SIC reported that numerous terrorism and terrorism-financing prosecutions were carried out by judicial authorities in Lebanon, several of which led to convictions.
On August 29, Lebanon acceded to the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism. However, it submitted a reservation concerning the definition of terrorism to endorse the definition from the Arab Convention for the Suppression of Terrorism of 1984, which excludes any acts taken against what is characterized as “foreign occupation.”
Countering Violent Extremism: The National Preventing Violent Extremism Coordination Unit organized nine workshops on PVE in 2019. Local and international donor efforts included participation in the SCN, as well as prevention programs in prisons.
International and Regional Cooperation: Lebanon supported CT efforts in regional organizations and participated in counterterrorism finance programs, such as MENAFATF. Lebanon offered training to regional peers in international standards to combat terrorist financing.
Overview: The ongoing conflict involving the Government of National Accord (GNA) and Libyan National Army (LNA)-aligned forces, as well as other nonstate actors, prevented Libyan authorities from dedicating sufficient resources to the fight against terrorist groups. However, both GNA- and LNA-aligned forces conducted CT operations during the year, arresting or killing dozens of ISIS or AQIM fighters. U.S. strikes on ISIS-Libya targets further degraded this group. The GNA continued to work with the United States to counter the spread of terrorist groups such as ISIS-Libya and AQIM, albeit to a more limited degree following the departure of U.S. forces from Libya in April. The GNA’s effectiveness was constrained both by the lack of control it exerted over national forces and by its diminished geographic reach.
Since the 2016 expulsion of ISIS from Sirte, the group has lacked a concentrated, physical presence in Libya, instead spreading into smaller groups with a presence in both urban environments and the sparsely populated desert districts of Jufra, Sebha, and Murzuq. In southern Libya, where terrorist groups operated most freely, forces aligned with the LNA conducted operations against AQIM and ISIS. All acknowledged terrorist attacks by ISIS in 2019 were conducted against LNA forces or against civilian targets in areas under LNA control. The LNA undertook CT efforts in areas under its control.
In coordination with the GNA authorities in Tripoli, the United States conducted four precision airstrikes on ISIS in southern Libya in September 2019, killing 43 ISIS fighters and displacing remaining elements. The GNA has also cooperated with the United States on the investigation of suspected terrorists. Libya is a member of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS.
2019 Terrorist Incidents:
- On April 9, ISIS militants killed two people in the town of al-Fuqaha in Jufra province (central Libya). One of the victims was the head of the municipal council. The group also kidnapped an LNA security official and burned several houses in the town. Former ISIS head Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi later praised the attack in a video.
- On May 4, ISIS fighters carried out an assault against LNA forces at the Jabril Baba camp near the southern Libyan city of Sebha, killing at least nine LNA soldiers from the 160th Brigade, one of whom was beheaded. ISIS later claimed to have released inmates detained in the training camp’s detention facility.
- On May 9, ISIS conducted an attack on the town of Ghadduwa (45 miles south of Sebha), killing three people, including former Libyan diplomat Ali al-Kaboush. ISIS also kidnapped one individual and issued a statement claiming responsibility for burning down 14 houses and local LNA military facilities.
- On May 18, ISIS fighters conducted a small-arms attack at a checkpoint on the road from Zilla to Waddan near a facility operated by a subsidiary of the Libyan National Oil Corporation, killing three LNA soldiers and briefly kidnapping four others. One of the ISIS fighters reportedly detonated a person-borne improvised explosive device to prevent capture.
- On July 11, three explosive devices were detonated at the Huwari Cemetery in Benghazi during the funeral of Khalifa Mismari, a former Libyan Special Forces commander. Several high-ranking LNA officers were present at the scene of the attack. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, which killed four and wounded 33.
- On August 10, unknown attackers detonated a car bomb in front of a shopping mall near the Commerce and Investment Bank in the Hawari neighborhood of Benghazi targeting a UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) convoy. The attackers killed three UNSMIL guards and wounded scores of bystanders, including children.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: Libya did not pass or implement any CT legislation in 2019. Libya lacks a comprehensive CT law, although the Libyan penal code criminalizes offenses that may threaten national security, including terrorism, the promotion of terrorist acts, and the handling of money in support of such acts. Libya has ratified the Africa Union’s Convention on the Prevention and Combating of Terrorism, which requires states to criminalize terrorist acts under their national laws. The GNA has continued to support and seek international cooperation to combat ISIS.
A number of state and nonstate organizations, both outside and under official GNA authority, claimed CT responsibilities. GNA-aligned groups with the greatest CT capacity included the Misratan Joint Security Operations Room (MJSOR) and the Tripoli-based Special Deterrence Force (aka “Rada Force”), a Salafist militia nominally integrated into the GNA Ministry of Interior. MJSOR, Rada Force, and the GNA MOI conducted more than 20 arrest operations against terrorists who were current or former members of ISIS, AQIM, and other AQIM-affiliated groups in 2019, detaining more than 31 terrorist suspects. The LNA Western, Eastern, and Southern CT Operations Rooms conducted more than 25 operations during which it arrested at least 57 and killed at least 44 individuals connected with these same terrorist groups. Because of the limited geographic reach of the internationally recognized GNA, the GNA’s ability to deter or reduce terrorist activities was limited to areas under its control. Libyan law enforcement personnel lacked clear mandates and the capacity to detect, deter, respond to, or investigate terrorist incidents due to continued political and security force fragmentation.
The Libyan government, through its National Team for Border Security and Management, continued work in 2019 to develop a comprehensive border management strategy. Although approval of a national strategy will be an important step, Libya continues to struggle to secure the country’s thousands of miles of land, air, and maritime borders. The U.S. Department of State provided training and other technical assistance to Libyan airport officials, border guards, customs agents, and police and intelligence forces in securing airports against the threat of terrorism, which included preventive security measures consisting of access control, passenger and cabin baggage screening, hold baggage screening, and air and mail cargo handling.
Despite the arrests of dozens of new terrorist suspects and the referral of some suspects to the public prosecutor, there were no reported terrorism-related prosecutions in 2019. In many parts of Libya, armed groups, rather than state institutions, provide security and law enforcement functions, including detention of terrorist elements. National police and security forces are fragmented, are inadequately trained and equipped, and lack clear reporting chains and coordination mechanisms. Libya’s military forces are similarly weak and fragmented. Nonstate armed groups often overshadow formal security structures.
The following are two examples of operations and arrests by state and nonstate forces in 2019:
- On November 29, the GNA Ministry of Interior arrested Emad Faraj Mansour al-Shuqabi on terrorism charges related to his collaboration with known members of ISIS. Al-Shuqabi was arrested by the Tajoura Branch of the Central Support Forces, and he was referred to the GNA Attorney General for prosecution.
- On December 13, the LNA-aligned Central Investigations Directorate in Benghazi arrested two men under the suspicion of smuggling funds for terrorist financing purposes in support of ISIS in cooperation with an Egyptian national. Following the arrests, firearms and ammunition were recovered at the suspects’ homes. Both men confessed to the allegations, identifying two other suspects in the process, and their files were transferred to the public prosecutor in Benghazi.
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Libya is a member of MENAFATF. Libya is also a member of the Defeat-ISIS Coalition’s CIFG. There were no significant updates in 2019.
Countering Violent Extremism: There were no changes in 2019.
International and Regional Cooperation: International assistance continued in 2019, although the outbreak of conflict for Tripoli in April forced many donor nations to curtail assistance efforts or conduct assistance outside Libya. Libya is a member of the UN, the AU, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and the Arab League, and it has participated in regional workshops administered by the UN.
Overview: The United States and Morocco have robust and long-standing CT cooperation. The Government of Morocco continued its comprehensive CT strategy that includes vigilant security measures, regional and international cooperation, and counter-radicalization policies. In 2019, Morocco’s CT efforts largely mitigated its risk of terrorism, doubling the number of arrests compared with 2018. The country continued to face sporadic threats, largely from small, independent terrorist cells, the majority of which claimed to be inspired by or affiliated with ISIS. In March 2019, Morocco repatriated eight FTFs from Syria. Morocco is an active participant in the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS. Morocco is also a member of the GCTF and is currently the co-chair of the GCTF with Canada.
2019 Terrorist Incidents: There were no terrorist incidents reported in Morocco in 2019.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: Morocco continued to investigate, prosecute, and sentence defendants under its CT legislation, enacted in 2003 and expanded in 2015.
In 2019, Morocco’s Council of Ministers approved a draft law to manage trade in dual-use goods, which would give Moroccan law enforcement authority to control the import, export, and transit of dual-use goods and related services that could be used for WMD proliferation related purposes, to include the development of a WMD program.
In 2019, under the direction of the Ministry of Interior, Moroccan law enforcement aggressively targeted and reported to have arrested more than 125 individuals, effectively dismantling more than 25 terrorist cells in the early stages of planning attacks against a range of targets, including public buildings, public figures, and tourist sites. Moroccan law enforcement leveraged intelligence collection, police work, and collaboration with international partners to conduct CT operations. Three men who murdered two Scandinavian hikers in the Atlas Mountains in 2018 were sentenced to death in July 2019 (though Morocco has had a moratorium on executions since 1993), while a fourth man received a life sentence.
The Central Bureau of Judicial Investigation (BCIJ) remains the primary law enforcement agency responsible for CT prosecutions. The BCIJ reports to the General Directorate for Territorial Surveillance and operates under the supervision of the public prosecutor of the Court of Appeals. The following offers a snapshot of arrests in 2019:
- In January, Moroccan authorities dismantled a 13-person cell for inciting terrorist crimes and undermining the state’s security in the cities of, Casablanca, Mohammedia, and Sale, seizing electronic devices, bladed weapons, and a written pledge of allegiance to ISIS.
- In May, Moroccan authorities dismantled a nine-member cell pledging allegiance to ISIS that planned to perpetrate terrorist attacks in Tangier, seizing electronic devices, paramilitary uniforms, and harpoon guns.
- In October, Moroccan authorities dismantled a seven-person cell operating in Casablanca, Chefchaouen, and Ouazzane that was preparing to target sensitive infrastructure and strategic sites, seizing bladed weapons, diving equipment, and ISIS flags.
Border security remained a top priority for Moroccan authorities. The General Directorate for National Security has primary responsibility for conducting border inspections at ports of entry such as Casablanca’s Mohammed V Airport. Law enforcement officials and private airline carriers worked regularly with the United States to detect and deter individuals attempting to transit illegally and to address watchlisted travelers. Moroccan airport authorities have excellent capabilities in detecting fraudulent documents. In addition, police, customs officers, and the Royal Gendarmerie operated mobile and fixed checkpoints along the roads in border areas and at the entrances to major municipalities. Moroccan naval and coast guard units monitored and patrolled Morocco’s extensive coastal waters, including the Strait of Gibraltar, to interdict illicit traffickers.
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Morocco is a member of MENAFATF. Its FIU, known as the Unité de Traitement du Renseignement Financier, is a member of the Egmont Group. Morocco is also a member of the Defeat-ISIS Coalition’s CIFG. In August, MENAFATF published a Mutual Evaluation Report that reviewed Morocco’s compliance with FATF standards and the effectiveness of Morocco’s AML/CFT system; the report contained several recommendations to enhance its AML/CFT regimes.
Countering Violent Extremism: Morocco has a comprehensive CVE strategy that prioritizes countering radicalization and oversight of the religious sphere. To counter what it views as religious extremism, Morocco promotes an interpretation of the Maliki-Ashari school of Sunni Islam, which it considers tolerant. The Ministry of Endowments and Islamic Affairs has developed an educational curriculum for Morocco’s nearly 50,000 imams, as well as for female clerics (mourchidates). In 2019, Morocco’s imam training center in Rabat trained more than 2,700 religious leaders, mostly from West Africa, which included more than 400 women graduates. The Royal Mohammedan League of Ulema (Rabita Mohammedia) counters radicalization by producing scholarly research, reviewing educational curricula, and conducting youth outreach on religious and social topics.
In prisons, the U.S. Department of State has supported the General Delegation for Prison Administration and Reintegration’s (DGAPR’s) efforts to modernize prison management, develop prisoner classification tools, and construct more secure facilities. The DGAPR has conducted four offerings of its deradicalization program, Moussalaha (Reconciliation) and plans to open the program to female prisoners in 2020.
International and Regional Cooperation: Morocco is currently a co-chair of the GCTF with Canada. Morocco hosted one GCTF event in June 2019, an Africa-focused regional workshop on the “Initiative on Improving Capabilities for Detecting and Interdicting Terrorist Travel through Enhanced Terrorist Screening and Information Sharing,” an initiative that Morocco co-chaired with the United States. Morocco also participated in UN-led workshops on detecting and preventing terrorist travel. Morocco is a major non-NATO ally. Morocco hosted the annual African Lion exercise and participated in multilateral regional training exercises. Morocco is an active member of the TSCTP. Morocco also has strong cooperation with European partners – especially Belgium, France, and Spain – to thwart potential terrorist threats in Europe. Regional tensions between Morocco and Algeria remained an impediment to CT cooperation in 2019.
Overview: Oman is an important regional CT partner that actively worked in 2019 to prevent terrorists from conducting attacks or using the country as a safe haven. The Omani government remains concerned about the conflict in Yemen and the potential for al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula and ISIS-Yemen to threaten Oman’s land and maritime borders. Omani officials regularly engaged with U.S. officials on the need to counter terrorism, but rarely broadcast their CT efforts publicly. The Government of Oman sought training and equipment from the U.S. government, commercial entities, and other countries to support its efforts to control Omani land, air, and maritime borders. Oman also used U.S. security assistance to improve its crisis management capacity, as well as its CT tactics and procedures. Oman is a member of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, the Saudi-led Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition (IMCTC), and the Riyadh-based TFTC.The Government of Oman also issued several statements condemning terrorist attacks around the world in 2019.
2019 Terrorist Incidents: There were no terrorist incidents reported in Oman in 2019.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: Oman did not promulgate new laws related to penalties for terrorist activity in 2019 but continued to implement the penal code released by Royal Decree 7/2018 in January 2018. This code expands on previously established penalties and specifically stipulates imprisonment for a term of three to 15 years for any Omani citizen who joins or offers either material or “ideological” support to a foreign terrorist or “extremist” organization. Other provisions in the penal code are consistent with previous policies outlining penalties, including the death penalty and life imprisonment, for various terrorist acts, including establishment or leadership of a terrorist group, attempts to join a terrorist group, attempts to recruit for a terrorist group, development of an explosive or weapon, or takeover of any mode of transportation for purposes of terrorism.
CT investigations, crisis responses, and border security capabilities were limited by local capacity and an operating environment made challenging by Oman’s extensive coastline and long, remote borders with Saudi Arabia and Yemen. Nevertheless, Oman had adequate communication and coordination among its many agencies that have CT jurisdiction. The Sultan’s Special Forces and the Royal Oman Police Special Task Force are Oman’s primary CT response forces. The Royal Office Liaison and Coordination Service and the Internal Security Service also play key roles in securing Oman from terrorist threats. Omani authorities have developed specific plans to prevent or respond to terrorist attacks against soft targets.
The major impediments to more effective law enforcement and border security are limited resources, insufficient Omani interagency coordination, and the need for continued training to develop advanced law enforcement skills. The rugged, mountainous terrain along Oman’s border with Yemen is an additional challenge. To address these significant hurdles, Omani authorities continued construction of a fence along the border with Yemen to prevent illegal entry into Oman, and the Omani government continued to seek opportunities for additional U.S. border security training.
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Oman is a member of MENAFATF. Its FIU, known as the Financial Information Processing Unit, is a member of the Egmont Group. Oman is also a member of the TFTC.
In collaboration with other TFTC member states, Oman in 2019 imposed one round of sanctions against individuals and entities affiliated with the Iranian regime’s terror-support networks in the region. In November, the Central Bank of Oman, the National Committee to Combat Money Laundering and Terrorism Finance, and the National Committee for Combating Terrorism met to strategize about enhancing protections against money laundering in Oman.
In December, Omani officials participated in a DOJ-led workshop focused on disrupting terrorist and criminal funding mechanisms through effective online undercover investigations.
Countering Violent Extremism: The full nature and scope of Oman’s CVE initiatives remained opaque in 2019, but it is believed Oman continued to counter terrorist recruitment through tightly controlled, private initiatives.
In 2019, Oman’s Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs continued to encourage religious tolerance and interfaith dialogue through a program titled “Tolerance, Understanding, Coexistence – Oman’s Message of Islam.” After facilitating several events in Europe in 2018, the ministry promoted the initiative in 2019 through exhibitions in the United States, Indonesia, and Nepal.
International and Regional Cooperation: In April, the IMCTC announced that 13 member countries, including Oman, sent delegates to the IMCTC headquarters in Riyadh. Oman regularly votes in favor of CT measures in the UN General Assembly, the Arab League, and the Organization for Islamic Cooperation.
Overview: The United States and Qatar continued to increase CT cooperation in 2019, building on progress made after the U.S. Secretary of State and Qatari Foreign Minister signed a CT MOU in July 2017. At the U.S.-Qatar Counterterrorism Dialogue in November 2019, the two governments declared their fulfillment of the MOU largely complete and committed to set shared priorities for 2020. Qatar is an active participant in the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, is active in all Defeat-ISIS Coalition working groups, and facilitated U.S. military operations in the region. Qatar hosts roughly 10,000 U.S. service members on two military installations critical to Coalition efforts.
2019 Terrorist Incidents: There were no terrorist attacks reported in Qatar in 2019.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: In 2019, the Qatari government drafted new AML/CFT legislation, which was finalized and passed into law on September 11, 2019. As of late 2019, Qatari authorities were in the process of finalizing AML/CFT bylaws, as well as a new CT law that will include language on targeted financial sanctions.
Qatar maintains an interagency National Anti-Terrorism Committee (NATC) composed of representatives from more than 10 government agencies. The NATC is tasked with formulating Qatar’s CT policy, ensuring interagency coordination, fulfilling Qatar’s obligations to counter terrorism under international conventions, and participating in multilateral conferences on terrorism. U.S. officials met regularly with the chairman of the NATC to discuss implementation of the CT MOU and overall CT cooperation. The Qatar State Security Bureau (SSB) maintained an aggressive posture toward monitoring internal terrorism-related activities. The Ministry of Interior (MOI) and Internal Security Force (ISF) remained well positioned to respond to incidents with rapid reaction forces that routinely engage in structured CT training and exercises, including with U.S. agencies. Qatar’s Office of Public Prosecution was active in developing its new units devoted to prosecuting terrorism and CFT cases.
As a result of the CT MOU signed in 2017, the United States and Qatar continued to partner on terrorist screening and aviation security. In 2019, MOI authorities continued to cooperate with officials from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection and Transportation Security Agency to enhance screening capabilities of the estimated 30 million travelers who pass through Hamad International Airport each year.
U.S. technical assistance to Qatari law enforcement and judicial agencies increased during 2019. The U.S. Departments of Justice, State, and the Treasury, as well as the FBI, led or participated in several capacity-building initiatives involving the MOI, the ISF, the SSB, the Public Prosecution, the Central Bank, and other Qatari agencies. A DOJ resident legal advisor has been stationed in Qatar since April 2018, providing technical assistance to Qatar’s CT efforts and building prosecutorial capacity. In November 2018, Qatar began using its own funds to pay for a three-year U.S. Department of State Anti-Terrorism Assistance (ATA) training program, including training pertinent to Qatar’s preparations to host the FIFA World Cup in 2022; the primary recipients are MOI and ISF officers.
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Qatar is a member of MENAFATF. Its FIU, known as the Qatar Financial Information Unit, is a member of the Egmont Group. Qatar is also a member of the Defeat-ISIS Coalition’s CIFG and the TFTC.
In collaboration with other TFTC member states, Qatar in 2019 imposed one round of sanctions against individuals and entities affiliated with the Iranian regime’s terror-support networks in the region.
The Qatari government passed a new AML/CFT law in 2019 and sought feedback from the International Monetary Fund and the U.S. government during the drafting process.
Qatar continued to maintain restrictions, imposed in 2017, on the overseas activities of Qatari charities, requiring all such activity to be conducted through one of two approved charities in an effort to better monitor charitable giving for terrorist financing abuse.
Countering Violent Extremism: The core of Qatar’s CVE strategy remained intensive investment in education and increasing economic opportunities for youth around the globe, largely through Qatar Foundation and related organizations, such as Silatech, Education Above All, and Reach Out to Asia. Qatar cohosted a high-level event promoting the power of sport to prevent and counter terrorist radicalization and recruitment on the margins of UN General Assembly in September 2019. Qatar has made significant strides in addressing state-sourced internal and external support for educational and religious content espousing intolerance, discrimination, sectarianism, and violence, although examples are still found in textbooks and disseminated through satellite television and other media.
Qatar was also a major funder of GCERF and sits on its Governing Board of Directors. The Qatar Fund for Development supported GCERF’s efforts to build awareness among community leaders about the impact of terrorist radicalization and recruitment, share information on how to respond to terrorism, promote peace through community engagement activities, and provide educational initiatives.
Qatar’s Ministry of Education and Higher Education (MEHE) also supported English language programming in Ministry of Education schools as a means of countering terrorist influence and messaging. MEHE facilitated extracurricular English reading and writing workshops in primary schools. In November 2019, the Qatar National Library co-hosted an “open mic” event for high schoolers to promote critical thinking, tolerance, and peaceful expression.
International and Regional Cooperation: Qatar is an active CT participant in the UN, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and the Arab League. Qatar is also a member of the GCTF and a major contributor to GCERF. The country was active in GCC activities, but the Gulf dispute that broke out in June 2017 froze most GCC-wide engagements. Qatar continues to participate, however, in TFTC activities in Riyadh.
Overview: In 2019, Saudi Arabian government officials continued to work closely with their U.S. counterparts to deploy a comprehensive and well-resourced CT strategy that included vigilant security measures, regional and international cooperation, and measures to counter terrorist radicalization and recruitment. Saudi Arabia maintained a high cooperation tempo with U.S. and international partners in a range of CT fields, including terrorist information sharing, monitoring of FTFs, border security, countering unmanned aerial systems (UAS), and CVE. The Saudi Arabian government worked to disrupt, and supported U.S. and international sanctions against, terrorist finance networks, focusing heavily on entities supporting Iran’s IRGC-QF, Lebanese Hizballah, and other Iranian proxy groups active in the Gulf.
Attacks by Iran on September 14 targeted some of the Kingdom’s most important oil-processing facilities at Abqaiq and Khurais. Saudi authorities moved quickly to bolster the facilities’ security posture, restore oil processing and export capacity, and repair damaged infrastructure. To help deter Iranian aggressive behavior and enhance Saudi capacity, Saudi Arabia agreed to host U.S. service members.
As in previous years, Saudi Arabia was a full partner and active participant in the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS and provided significant operational and logistical support for Coalition activities in Syria and Iraq. Saudi operations in Yemen included CT missions against AQAP and ISIS.
2019 Terrorist Incidents: Saudi Arabia suffered from numerous terrorist incidents in 2019. Terrorist incidents included both external attacks by Iranian and Houthi actors and small-scale attacks, largely perpetrated by lone offender actors including ISIS sympathizers. Militants instigated violence using IEDs, gunfire, and UAS. Attacks in 2019 included:
- On April 7, two suspected terrorists were killed and another two arrested by Saudi security forces when they attacked a vehicle checkpoint in Abu Hadriya on the Dammam-Jubail highway. Two non-Saudi civilians were injured in the exchange of gunfire between the suspects and Saudi security forces.Two Saudi security officials also sustained injuries.
- On April 21, Saudi security officials killed four suspected terrorists in a failed terrorist attack on a Ministry of Interior building in the town of Al Zulfi, Riyadh Province. The militants detonated an explosive suicide belt, and three Saudi security officials were injured in the exchange of fire. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack.
- On May 14, unmanned aircraft systems targeted two pumping stations on the East-West pipeline carrying crude oil from Dhahran to Yanbu. Yemen-based Iran-backed Houthi militants claimed responsibility.
- On June 12, Saudi-led coalition senior officials reported a cross-border cruise missiles attack at Abha International Airport, injuring 26 civilians. Yemen-based Iran-backed Houthi militants claimed responsibility for this attack.
- On August 17, Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi militants struck a natural gas liquids plant at Shaybah oilfield in the Kingdom’s Empty Quarter with drones. The drone strike damaged the facility and caused a fire. No deaths or casualties were reported.
- On September 14, Iranian attacks hit the Abqaiq and Khurais oil processing facilities in the Eastern province, initially taking 5.7 million barrels per day of crude oil production offline. Although Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi militants claimed responsibility for the attack, investigations led by Saudi Arabia and the United States concluded the Iranian government was behind the attack. Saudi Aramco resumed pre-attack production levels less than two weeks later, ahead of schedule.
In addition, on December 6, 2019, a member of the Royal Saudi Air Force opened fire in a classroom at Naval Air Station Pensacola in Florida, killing three and wounding eight. The gunman, 2nd Lt Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani, was a student who was receiving training at the base. The FBI later noted that Alshamrani had coordinated with AQAP before the terrorist attack, for which the latter claimed credit. The Government of Saudi Arabia continues to work closely with the United States on the investigation.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: In 2019, the Saudi Arabian government used its 2017 counterterrorism law to prosecute cases. The State Security Presidency (SSP) and the Saudi General Investigations Directorate, also known as the Mabahith, took the lead in terrorism-related investigations. Well positioned to respond to incidents, the SSP aggressively investigated terrorist suspects and dismantled suspected ISIS terrorist-related cells within its borders. According to press reports, the Specialized Criminal Court, tasked with judicial oversight of criminal hearings, heard several terrorism-related cases. The court sentenced 38 convicts to death for terrorism-related crimes, with one Yemeni executed on April 9 and 37 Saudis executed on April 23. Some international human rights and press groups continued to assert that the Kingdom has misused counterterrorism laws to prosecute religious and political dissidents, women’s rights activists, and prominent Saudi clerics. Saudi Arabia remained a country of particular concern, a designation it has held since 2004 for systematic violations under the International Religious Freedom Act, including for repression of religious freedom and religious minorities.The Anti-Defamation League and other human rights organizations reported that Saudi textbooks, media, and preaching continued to feature content that condones violence against Jews, Christians, Shia, LGBT persons, and others. See the 2019 International Religious Freedom report.
Saudi Arabia remained committed to securing its borders and denying safe haven to terrorists. With an extensive border security network, the Ministry of Interior closely monitored passenger manifests for inbound and outbound flights and used travel document security technology, API/PNR, and biometric screening capabilities at ports of entry. The General Directorate of Border Guards expanded search operations to detect and disrupt terrorist activity and effectively patrolled land and maritime borders. Officials from the Saudi Border Guards, charged with monitoring the coast within the Kingdom’s territorial waters, called for international agreements to combat the growing threat of maritime terrorism targeting oil tankers and coastal installations in the Gulf.
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Saudi Arabia is a member of FATF and MENAFATF. Saudi Arabia became the first Arab nation to achieve full membership in the FATF in June. Its FIU, known as the Saudi Arabia Financial Investigation Unit, is a member of the Egmont Group. Saudi Arabia is also a member of the Defeat ISIS CIFG and the TFTC.
In collaboration with other TFTC member states, Saudi Arabia in 2019 imposed one round of sanctions against individuals and entities affiliated with the Iranian regime’s terror-support networks in the region.
Countering Violent Extremism: Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 reform package calls on all ministries to undertake measures to confront and weaken the violent ideology that underpins terrorist propaganda. The Muslim World League Secretary General, Dr.Mohammed al-Issa, pressed a message of interfaith dialogue, religious tolerance, and peaceful coexistence with global religious authorities, including Muslim imams outside the Arab world. He also conducted outreach with a variety of Jewish and Christian leaders, including prominent U.S. rabbis and Christian evangelicals.
Saudi Arabia has recently initiated lines of CVE effort to foster reform and regulate religious activities. The government reported that it continued to work to constrain the discriminatory content of its education, satellite, and religious advocacy output both overseas and domestically. Nevertheless, its decades-long support for organizations that propagated intolerant interpretations of Islam overseas remained a concern, as did uneven implementation of educational content reform. Ministry of Islamic Affairs officials continued to conduct outreach to imams across the country, encouraging them to refute “radical extremist” ideology in their sermons and replacing imams who included inflammatory rhetoric in their mosque sermons. Through routine monitoring of terrorist websites and social media accounts, authorities attempted to dispel what the Saudi government views as misinterpretations of Islamic theology. In 2019, there also was an increased emphasis on family outreach mechanisms to reduce the risk of travel to conflict zones to avoid terrorist radicalization or participation in terror-related activities. Terrorist de-radicalization programs in Saudi prisons and at the Mohammed bin Naif Care and Counseling Center remained a main feature in the reintegration and monitoring of former terrorists.
International and Regional Cooperation: Saudi Arabia’s regional diplomatic efforts to fight terrorism saw a strong uptick in 2019, as the country partnered with several nations on a bilateral and regional basis to improve information sharing related to CT activities. Through the UN Counter-Terrorism Center, the GCTF, and the Gulf Cooperation Council, the Saudi Arabian government worked to strengthen capacity and monitor new terrorist trends through policy coordination, capacity building, and operational collaboration with international partners. Saudi Arabia signed multiple CT MOUs with international partners and hosted three diplomatic conferences – the Makkah Summit, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation Summit, and the Arab Summit – all of which included counterterrorism discussions. Saudi Arabia is a member of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS.
Overview: Although the risk of terrorist activity in Tunisia remained high in 2019, the Tunisian government’s improved counterterrorism capacity and coordination, as well as its prioritization of border security, contributed to a reduction in the number and severity of terrorist attacks. The dual suicide attack on June 27 by ISIS-inspired individuals was the most ambitious of 2019, but the Tunisian government’s response was well orchestrated and quickly restored public calm and resulted in arrests. The increased number of successful CT operations throughout 2019, including the killing of Jund Al Khilafah leader Houssem Thelithi Mokni, reflected greater interagency coordination, improved preemptive planning, and sustained momentum in dismantling terrorist cells.
The government continued to prioritize counterterrorism and border security in light of escalated Libyan instability and political uncertainty in Algeria. U.S security assistance increased in 2019, and Tunisia leveraged cooperation with the United States and the international community to continue to professionalize its security apparatus. Tunisia grew its overall CT capacity, outlined ways to implement a national PVE/CVE strategy, and expanded its freezing of terrorist assets. As fundamental CT goals are being met, Tunisia will need time and continued support to focus on streamlining its CT efforts, to expand strategic planning, and to enhance interagency coordination to sustain gains and ensure mid- to long-term force sustainability.
2019 Terrorist Incidents: Terrorist organizations remained active; however, their ability to carry out effective attacks was degraded by improved coordination and capacity of Tunisian security forces. Lone wolf attacks continued to pose a challenge to security forces. The following list summarizes the most significant terrorist incidents of 2019:
- On April 26, during a Tunisian Armed Forces CT mission in the Chaambi Mountains, a landmine exploded near a military vehicle, killing one soldier and wounding three.
- On June 27, two suicide bomb attacks struck central Tunis, targeting a police vehicle downtown and the office of the Ministry of Interior’s National Police CT Investigative Unit nearby. The former attack led to the death of one municipal policeman and wounding three civilians; the latter injured three security officers and killed one. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attacks.
- On September 23, an individual acting alone stabbed a military officer near a bus stop and proceeded to fatally stab a police officer near a courthouse in Bizerte.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: In 2019, there were two legislative initiatives related to countering terrorism. On January 10, the Parliament ratified amendments to the 2015 Countering Terrorism and Money Laundering Law. With the amendments, the law now legally defines perpetrators of terrorist crimes, integrates juvenile justice into the Judicial Center for Combating Terrorism (POLE), and grants new powers to the National Counter-Terrorism Commission (CNLCT), including the decision to freeze the assets of persons suspected of terrorism-related crimes. On May 17, the Tunisian government issued Decree 419 titled “UN Measures to Prevent Terrorists from Acquiring Weapons of Mass Destruction,” which, in addition to outlining steps to implement UN Security Council measures related to CT and counter-WMDs, extended the CNLCT’s authority to sanction persons or organizations engaged in material support for terrorism.
The government’s CT efforts demonstrated notable increases in proactive CT operations and improved coordination between Ministry of Interior (MOI) and Ministry of Defense security elements in 2019, resulting in significant arrests of terrorists, weapons seizures, and successful operations. Major law enforcement actions and arrests included:
- On January 3, police officers engaged two terrorists belonging to Katibat Al Jihad Wal Tawheed, a recent splinter of Jund Al Khilafah, in Sidi Bouzid governorate. Both individuals died after detonating their explosive belts. Security officials seized a machine gun, remote-controlled IEDs, hunting rifles, ammunition, and a large sum of money.
- On March 19, MOI security forces carried out a pre-emptive security operation against Jund Al Khilafah on Mount Salloum, Kasserine governorate, killing its leader, Houssem Thelithi Mokni, and two other members. The unit seized three firearms, ammunition, several detonators, grenades, and explosive belts.
- On May 1, a joint preemptive operation involving MOI security forces on Chaambi Mountain, Kasserine governorate, resulted in the capture of Raed Touati, a member of AQIM-aligned Uqba Ibn Nafaa.
- During June 27-28, in response to the twin suicide attacks in Tunis, security units conducted 493 raids resulting in the arrest of 25 wanted elements on the suspicion of belonging to a terrorist organization, glorification of terrorism, and terrorist offenses. These arrests helped uncover a plot targeting Carthage Airport.
- On September 2, National Guard units in coordination with the Tunisian military conducted a CT operation west of Kasserine, killing three terrorists and seizing four rifles and three suicide belts. One National Guard officer died. According to the CT Judicial POLE, the three terrorists were Algerian nationals wanted since 2013.
- On October 20, National Guard units in coordination with the Tunisian military conducted a CT operation in Kasserine, killing one terrorist, Algerian national Mourad Ben Hamadi Chayib.
- During November 27-28, Tunisian security forces discovered a cache of more than six thousand rounds of 7.62-calibre ammunition buried in the desert outside the southwestern city of Douz.
Border security remained a top emphasis of the Government of Tunisia in 2019 because of escalation in fighting in Libya and Algeria’s uncertain political transition. The Tunisian Armed Forces consider border security their principal mission along with CT. Along with the MOI’s National Guard, the Armed Forces successfully employed patrol craft, vehicles, weapons, and training in border security and CT operations throughout 2019. On April 11, the southern electronic border surveillance system operation room in Gabes came online. On October 3, a maritime coastal surveillance system operation center in Kelibia was inaugurated. The complete maritime surveillance system will provide coverage across the entire Tunisian coast.
According to the Ministry of Tourism, 8.3 million tourists visited Tunisia from January to November 2019, a 14 percent increase over the same period last year. The most recent terrorist attack against tourists in Tunisia was in 2015. Safeguarding tourist zones remained a Tunisian government priority in 2019. Within the context of the G-7 mechanism for multilateral security assistance coordination, the UK-led Tourist Site Protection working group provided the MOI with vehicles for use near tourist beaches in Monastir, Nabeul, and Sousse, and helped train 81 security agents to work at archeological sites in 2019.
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Tunisia is a member of MENAFATF. Its FIU, known as the Tunisian Financial Analysis Committee, is a member of the Egmont Group. Tunisia is also a member of the Defeat ISIS Coalition’s CIFG and successfully completed its FATF action plan and the FATF removed Tunisia from its grey-list at the October 2019 plenary meeting in Paris.
On October 25, the CNLCT announced there were 138 Tunisians on the national list of “Individuals, Organizations and Entities Related to Terrorist Crimes.” Of these, 107 Tunisians were residing domestically, 26 lived abroad, and five had fled to neighboring countries. The total value of frozen assets amounts to approximately $106 million.
Countering Violent Extremism: In 2019, Tunisia continued its concerted effort to prevent what it terms “radicalization” through youth and educational programs coordinated among its ministries and civil society organizations (CSOs). On April 8, the Alternative Narrative Platform, an office within the Prime Ministry, launched its national CVE action plan in partnership with the Tunisian Broadcasting Institute to promote messages of tolerance, diversity, and acceptance across mass media platforms. In October, the Ministry of Justice launched its Tawasol Project with assistance from the European Union, the Netherlands, and the UK. The program will work with 60 prisoners in three prisons as a pilot to classify prisoners, teach communication techniques against “extremism,” and create prison research/vocation centers for inmate education. The MOJ intends to expand the project to all its prisons by 2028.
International and Regional Cooperation: Tunisia will assume a seat during 2020 to 2021 on the UN Security Council representing both Africa and the Middle East, and it has been a participant in UN-led training on detecting and preventing terrorist travel.
Overview: The United Arab Emirates government continued to prosecute multiple individuals for terrorism-related offenses in 2019. In line with previous years, the UAE continued its collaboration with U.S. law enforcement on counterterrorism cases; its membership in the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS; and its support for CVE and related platforms, such as the Sawab and Hedayah Centers, respectively. The UAE remained co-chair of the Defeat-ISIS Coalition’s Communications Working Group, along with the United States and the United Kingdom, as well as co-chair of the Defeat-ISIS Coalition’s Stabilization Working Group with the United States and Germany.
The government’s security apparatus continued monitoring suspected terrorists in the UAE and foiled potential terrorist attacks within its borders. The UAE customs, police, and other security agencies improved border security and worked with financial authorities to counter terrorist finance. UAE government officials worked closely with U.S. law enforcement counterparts to increase the UAE’s CT capabilities. The UAE continued to support counterterrorism efforts in Yemen to counter AQAP and ISIS, including support to local forces in CT operations. The drawdown of some UAE forces in Yemen and disbanding of some local security forces supported by the UAE following conflict between the Republic of Yemen Government and forces aligned with the Southern Transitional Council contributed to a reversal of territorial gains in the fight against AQAP and ISIS in Yemen, including in areas known to be historical safe havens for the groups.
2019 Terrorist Incidents: There were no terrorist attacks reported in the UAE in 2019.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: In 2019, the UAE continued to prosecute numerous individuals in terrorism-related cases using existing legislation. International human rights NGOs and activists reported the UAE uses its CT and cyber-crime laws as cover to pursue cases against political dissidents and activists.
The State Security Directorate (SSD) in Abu Dhabi and Dubai State Security (DSS) remained primarily responsible for CT law enforcement efforts. Local, emirate-level police forces, especially Abu Dhabi Police and Dubai Police, are the first responders in such cases and often provided technical assistance to SSD and DSS, respectively. Overall, the UAE security apparatus demonstrated capability in investigations, crisis response, and border security, and forces were trained and equipped to detect, deter, and respond to terrorist incidents.
According to press reports, the Federal Appeal Court’s State Security Court examined new terrorism-related cases in 2019 and retried terrorism-related cases from 2018. Most cases involved defendants accused of promoting or affiliating with UAE-designated terrorist organizations, including ISIS, AQAP, and al-Nusrah Front.
As in previous years, the Government of the UAE worked closely with the United States, through DHS, to improve its border security posture. Law enforcement information sharing between Abu Dhabi Police’s Criminal Investigations Division and DHS Homeland Security Investigations helped counter transnational criminal organizations and terrorist groups. UAE ports of entry used an internal name-based watchlist system populated by local immigration, deportation, corrections, and security agencies to identify individuals who were prohibited from entering the country or were sought by UAE authorities. Some human rights organizations claimed that activists, academics, and journalists who had written critically about UAE policy were included on such lists and barred from entry. INTERPOL and GCC watchlists were incorporated into the UAE’s internal watchlist.
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: The UAE is a member of MENAFATF. Its FIU, known as the Anti-Money Laundering and Suspicious Cases Unit (AMLSCU), is a member of the Egmont Group. The UAE is also a member of the Defeat ISIS Coalition’s CIFG and the TFTC.
In collaboration with other TFTC member states, the UAE in 2019 imposed one round of sanctions against individuals and entities affiliated with the Iranian regime’s terror-support networks in the region.
The UAE passed Cabinet Decision No. 10 of 2019, also known as the Implementing Regulation of Decree Federal Law No. 20 of 2018, on Anti-Money Laundering and Combating the Financing of Terrorism and Illegal Organizations and provided interpretive guidance to financial institutions on these regulatory changes.
The Central Bank of the UAE (CBUAE) announced a new initiative to supervise financial institutions sanctions screening capabilities. Starting in the first quarter of 2020, CBUAE will use its own sanctions screening software as a baseline to test the sanctions screening capabilities of all UAE financial institutions regulated under the authority of the CBUAE.
In partnership with UNODC, the AMLSCU launched an online platform called goAML to facilitate the receipt, analysis, and dissemination of suspicious transactions and activity reports related to money laundering and the financing of terrorism, to UAE law enforcement authorities.
Countering Violent Extremism: The UAE government continued to play a leadership role in global CVE efforts. The UAE continued its support of Hedayah, the International Center of Excellence for Countering Violent Extremism, and the Sawab Center, a collaborative partnership with the United States to amplify credible voices to counter terrorist messaging online. The government separately worked to amplify credible alternative narratives by supporting the fifth annual Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies, which gathered 800 scholars and religious figures from 120 countries. Prominent UAE officials and religious leaders continued to publicly criticize and highlight the dangers of terrorist narratives. Through the General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowments, the government regulated all mosque sermons and religious publications to “instill the principle of moderation in Islam.” The UAE continued efforts to provide “moderate” religious education training to educators and imams from Afghanistan.
The UAE declared 2019 the “Year of Tolerance” and organized public events at home and abroad to promote the values of tolerance, coexistence, and cooperation among peoples from all races and religions. The UAE cabinet approved a national initiative to promote the role of the government as an incubator for tolerance, and the Emirate of Dubai hosted the World Tolerance Summit. The UAE announced the construction of an “Abrahamic Family House” to promote interfaith harmony and commemorate the historic visit of Pope Francis to Abu Dhabi in February 2019.
International and Regional Cooperation: The UAE has signed CT cooperation agreements with Egypt, New Zealand, Russia, India, Germany, South Korea, and Brazil. The UAE government participated in several international conferences on combating terrorism, expressing the UAE’s strategy and efforts in combating terrorism. The UAE hosted the annual Defeat-ISIS Coalition meeting in Abu Dhabi in October and an Arab League panel discussion on the role of media in combating terrorism in November. It also continued to play a role in countering AQAP and ISIS-Yemen through the deployment of forces in south Yemen.
Overview: Throughout 2019, AQAP, ISIS-Yemen, Hizballah, the IRGC-QF, and other Iran-backed terrorist groups continued to exploit the political and security vacuum created by the ongoing conflict between the Yemeni government under the leadership of President Abd Rabu Mansour Hadi, recognized by the UN Security Council as the legitimate government of Yemen, and the Iran-backed Houthi militants. Additionally, IRGC-QF has exploited the conflict to expand its influence in Yemen. UN and other reporting have highlighted the connection between the IRGC-QF and the Houthis, including the provision of lethal aid used by the Houthis to target civilian sites in Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Media reports suggest that other FTOs, such as Hizballah, may also be supporting the Houthi militants.
The Republic of Yemen Government, in partnership with the Saudi-led coalition, controlled the majority of Yemeni territory at the end of 2019; however, in August the UAE-backed secessionist Southern Transitional Council (STC) seized control of the Republic of Yemen Government’s temporary capital, Aden. With the November 5 signing of the Riyadh Agreement between the Republic of Yemen Government and the STC, the two parties agreed to end three months of hostilities in Yemen’s South. The agreement allowed for the return of the Republic of Yemen Government prime minister to Aden on November 18. It also aims to produce a more inclusive, representative cabinet and bring all military forces under the Republic of Yemen Government umbrella. Iran-backed Houthi militants controlled the capital of Sana’a and surrounding northwest highlands, and they largely controlled the port city of Hudaydah, among other areas. AQAP retained areas of influence inside Yemen, though the terrorist group was pushed back by Republic of Yemen Government and UAE-backed local security forces over the course of the year.
The Republic of Yemen Government cooperated with the U.S. government on CT efforts; however, because of the instability and violence in Yemen, as well as its own degraded capabilities, the Republic of Yemen Government cannot fully enforce CT measures across the country. A large security vacuum persists, which provides AQAP and ISIS-Yemen room to operate. Most counterterrorism gains in 2018 were reversed in 2019, as some UAE forces withdrew and other security forces supported by the UAE disbanded. Republic of Yemen Government and tribal pressures continued to complicate AQAP’s freedom of movement. AQAP and ISIS-Yemen continued to carry out terrorist attacks throughout the country, including in government-held territory. UAE-backed Yemeni Security Belt Forces, which played a significant role in CT efforts, were used by the STC to exercise control over significant parts of Aden in August. The November 2019 Riyadh Agreement aims to bring them under Republic of Yemen Government control. ISIS-Yemen remained considerably smaller in size and influence compared with AQAP, but it remained operationally active and continued to claim attacks against AQAP, Yemeni security forces, and the Houthis militants.
2019 Terrorist Incidents: AQAP and ISIS-Yemen terrorists carried out hundreds of attacks throughout Yemen in 2019. Methods included suicide bombers, VBIEDs, ambushes, armed clashes, kidnappings, and targeted assassinations. Notable terrorist incidents from 2019 include:
- On April 2, unknown gunmen kidnapped and killed a patient at Al Sadaqah hospital in Aden. The incident caused Doctors Without Borders to suspend all new admissions to the hospital.
- On August 1, ISIS-Yemen claimed responsibility for a suicide attack on a police station in Aden. The attackers used multiple suicide VBIEDs to attack a police station in Aden’s Omar al Mokhtar neighborhood, killing 11 people and injuring 29 others.
- On August 2, AQAP gunmen stormed al-Mahfad army base in southern Abyan province, killing 19 soldiers.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: Yemen made no significant changes to its CT legal framework or to its law enforcement and border security procedures in 2019. Yemen does not have comprehensive CT legislation. Owing to a lack of resources and organization, police forces throughout the country struggle to exert authority.
Draft CT legislation has been pending in the Parliament since 2008. Before the political instability in Sana’a that drove the Republic of Yemen Government from the capital in 2015, the draft was under review by the three parliamentary subcommittees responsible for counterterrorism (Legal and Constitutional Affairs; Security and Defense; and Codification of Sharia Law). The law would facilitate the detention of suspects and include mandatory sentencing for several terrorism-related crimes. There have been no clear moves to implement legal structures compliant with UNSCRs 2178 and 2396 related to countering foreign terrorists and travel, although the Republic of Yemen Government continues to institute some noteworthy measures to combat terrorist travel. There are limited commercial flights operating out of airports in Yemen, and the government does not have the capacity or resources to implement UNSCR 2309 mandates on aviation security.
Before March 2015, Yemen’s National Security Agency and President’s Office drafted a National Counterterrorism Strategy. A ministerial committee reviewed the draft but was unable to finalize it because of political instability. Thus, Yemen’s National Counterterrorism Strategy had not been officially adopted or implemented by the end of 2019.
Yemen employs the U.S.-provided PISCES system to secure borders and identify fraudulent travel documents. Despite the conflict, Yemen has been able to maintain traveler screening at a limited number of points of entry.
In past years, the Yemeni government’s Coast Guard played a critical role in interdicting weapons and other illegal materials destined for Yemen-based terrorist groups, although the nation’s maritime borders remained extremely porous. The central-southern coast remains highly vulnerable to maritime smuggling of fighters, weapons, materials, and goods used to support AQAP and ISIS-Yemen.
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Yemen is a member MENAFATF.
In 2019, the Central Bank of Yemen committed to implementing International Monetary Fund Diagnostic Report recommendations to enhance AML/CFT capacity, but no specific steps have been undertaken to date. Owing to a lack of judicial capacity and territorial control, the Yemeni government is unable to fully implement UNSCRs related to terrorist financing. Since 2010, FATF has identified Yemen as a risk to the international financial system because of its strategic AML/CFT deficiencies.
The government has committed with the STC to enhance management of state revenues and announced in December the formation of a committee authorized to inspect and audit customs and tax collection points to ensure that funds were not diverted from government coffers.
Countering Violent Extremism: There were no significant changes in 2019.
International and Regional Cooperation: Yemen joined the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS in 2019. The Republic of Yemen Government continued to cooperate with the GCC, the United States, and other donor countries as it concentrated on working toward a political solution to the conflict. Despite the challenges, the Republic of Yemen Government remained a dependable international partner as it worked to reestablish the rule of law within the territory it holds. Yemen, with the United States, the United Kingdom, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia, participates in the Yemen Security Working Group, which includes military and diplomatic representatives from its three member states, and develops several cooperative capacity-building initiatives for Yemeni military and security forces. For example, in July, 15 Yemen Coast Guard personnel participated in a two-and-a-half week ship boarding and inspection course held in Aden and delivered by the UN’s Office on Drugs and Crime’s Global Maritime Crime Program. In addition, around 150 Yemen Border Guard members participated in five Export Control and Related Border Security-funded iterations of Yemen Border Interdiction Training in Riyadh. Yemen also belongs to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the Arab League.
Source: U.S. State Department.