Overview: The United States and Algeria enjoyed close counterterrorism cooperation and had regular dialogue to discuss and coordinate counterterrorism efforts, exchange expertise, and strengthen the existing counterterrorism partnership. Algeria continued its significant efforts to prevent terrorist activity within its borders. Algerian armed forces and internal security forces published figures to show the continued pressure on terrorist groups, indicated by the considerable increase in numbers of terrorists surrendered, compared with 2017, and a comparable number of arms caches and hideouts that were destroyed in sweeping operations. Some analysts assessed that continuing losses have substantially reduced the capacities of terrorist groups to operate within Algeria. Al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (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 significant pressure. 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, and Tunisia – as well as human, weapons, and narcotics trafficking – contributed to the overall threat, particularly in border regions.
Algeria actively supported the effort to counter ISIS through counter-messaging and capacity-building programs with neighboring states. Algeria is a member of the GCTF and co-chaired the GCTF’s West Africa Region Capacity-Building Working Group with Canada in 2018.
2018 Terrorist Incidents: AQIM continued attacks using IEDs, bombings, and ambushes. The Algerian government maintained a strict “no concessions” policy with regard to individuals or groups holding its citizens hostage. Terrorist attacks in 2018 included the following:
- On February 14, five soldiers were reported killed and others seriously injured in a roadside IED blast in Ferkane, in northeastern Algeria near the Tunisian border. Four days later, AQIM claimed responsibility on social media for the attack as retaliation for the eight terrorists who were killed on January 26 by the Algerian army in Chechar, a small town in northeastern Algeria.
- On July 30, an IED blast killed seven soldiers and wounded 14 others who were conducting a sweeping operation near Skikda, a coastal city east of Algiers. In the skirmish that followed, four terrorists were killed and one was captured.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: Algeria made no significant changes to its counterterrorism legal framework in 2018.
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. In 2018, media reported that the Algerian army instituted a series of intensified security measures along its borders, including fences, observation towers, surveillance equipment, and drones. Algerian and Tunisian customs and law enforcement officials continued to coordinate along their shared border, including conducting a joint maritime exercise. The Government of Algeria closely monitored passenger manifests of inbound and outbound flights. Government officials made active use of INTERPOL databases leading to at least 25 arrests based on INTERPOL Red Notices.
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.
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: There were no significant changes in 2018. Algeria is a member of the Middle East and North Africa Financial Action Task Force (MENAFATF). Its FIU, known as the Financial Intelligence Processing Unit, is a member of the Egmont Group, the international body of FIUs that engage in secure information-sharing to combat money laundering and terrorist financing.
For additional information on money laundering and financial crimes, see the International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), Volume II, Money Laundering and Financial Crimes.
Countering Violent Extremism: Algeria pursues a whole-of-government approach to CVE, including rehabilitation and reintegration programs for repentant terrorists. Stressing the importance of an inclusive society, the Foreign Ministry published a booklet in 2018 on The Role of Democracy in the Fight against Violent Extremism and Terrorism. 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 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. There have been complaints the government 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 counterterrorism efforts through regional and multilateral organizations. As co-chair of the GCTF’s West Africa Region Capacity-Building Working Group, Algeria hosted that group’s plenary meeting in November along with a Police Cooperation Workshop. Algeria has taken a leadership role in AFRIPOL, the Algiers-based African Union mechanism for police cooperation, whose mandate is to enhance African police cooperation and prevent transnational crime and terrorism. Algeria hosted the AFRIPOL general assembly, donated the communication and data system for AFRIPOL to all member states, and spearheaded memoranda of understanding with other police organizations (e.g., INTERPOL and Europol).
Algeria continued positive diplomatic engagement to promote regional peace and security. Algeria chaired the implementation committee for the peace accord in Mali and continued to press stakeholders to support the UN political process in Libya. Algeria also participated in various Sahel-Saharan forums to discuss development and security policies and the evolution of regional terrorism.
Overview: Bahraini Shia militants remained a threat to security forces, though there were no successful major terrorist attacks in 2018. The Bahraini government made gains in detecting and containing terrorist threats from Bahraini Shia terrorists, often backed by Iran, and from ISIS sympathizers. Bahrain regularly experienced low-level violence between predominantly Bahraini Shia youths, who used Molotov cocktails and other homemade devices, and the predominantly Sunni security forces in mostly Shia villages. The Government of Bahrain is a member of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS and supported the Coalition’s diplomatic efforts and military operations by hosting the Fifth Fleet and Naval Central Command. Bahrain held parliamentary and municipal council elections on November 24 and December 1, respectively; both were peaceful. Political relations between the Sunni-led government and Shia-dominated opposition remained tense, exacerbated by a law ratified in June, preventing Bahrainis who had been members of now-banned political societies from contesting the elections. Sustained political tension, attributable to discrimination against the Shia majority, could increase the risk of radicalization to violence.
2018 Terrorist Incidents: There were no major terrorist attacks reported in Bahrain in 2018.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: Bahrain made no significant changes to its counterterrorism legal framework or border security procedures in 2018.
From January through March, Bahraini security forces conducted several large-scale raids of suspected militant strongholds, resulting in the arrest of more than 400 suspected Bahraini Shia militants and the seizure of weapons, ammunition, and explosives. Throughout the year, Bahrain continued to conduct smaller-scale security operations targeting these Shia militants. In July, the Bahraini government welcomed the U.S. designation of Iran-backed terrorist group al-Ashtar Brigades (AAB) as an FTO and Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT), and the August U.S. designation of Qassim Abdullah Ali Ahmed, also known as Qassim Al-Muamen, as SDGT. In January, AAB revealed a new logo using the same design as Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and has since aligned its public messaging alongside other Iran-backed terrorist proxies. The United States assisted Bahraini counterterrorism efforts by providing training, equipment, and other assistance to law enforcement agencies.
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Bahrain is a member of the Middle East and North Africa Financial Action Task Force (MENAFATF), and its FIU is a member of the Egmont Group. Bahrain is a member of the Riyadh-based Terrorist Financing Targeting Center (TFTC). Bahrain is also a member of the Defeat ISIS Coalition’s Counter-ISIS Finance Group and participates in the Egmont Group’s Counter ISIS project. The MENAFATF and FATF jointly completed its Mutual Evaluation Report of Bahrain in June; the report contained several recommendations to enhance its AML/CFT regimes.
Bahrain criminalizes terrorist financing in accordance with international standards and can immediately freeze suspicious financial assets. The government requires non-profit organizations to file suspicious transaction reports and monitors them to prevent misuse and terrorist financing. The government routinely distributes UN sanctions lists under relevant UNSCRs to financial institutions.
On October 23, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs imposed sanctions on several individuals and entities linked to either Iran’s IRGC or the Taliban for their support for or funding of terrorism, blocking their assets and banning transactions in Bahrain. These actions were taken in collaboration with the TFTC, which acts as a coordinating body for Gulf Cooperation Council countries’ terrorism financing efforts.
Government officials contended that some Shia religious leaders directed donations to finance militant activities and that clergy misused religious traditions, including religious pilgrimages, to recruit militants. However, activists and opposition-aligned clergy claimed that scrutiny of Shia alms giving (or khums) has been part of a wider crackdown on the political opposition.
Countering Violent Extremism: The Bahraini government continued its efforts to adopt a national CVE strategy in line with the UN Secretary-General’s “Preventing Violent Extremism Plan of Action.” Additionally, numerous officials from the government, legislature, and NGOs have developed programming targeting youth and other vulnerable populations. In 2017, Bahrain passed the alternative sentencing law as a mechanism intended to reduce harsh punishments for minor crimes, which may otherwise potentially lead to radicalization to violence. In May 2018, Bahrain’s High Criminal Court made first use of the alternative sentencing law when it ordered 11 women convicted of various offenses to be released to complete community service instead of serving prison terms.
Within the Bahraini Sunni community, a limited circle of individuals became radicalized to violence in the past several years and joined local terrorist factions or traveled to Syria or Iraq to fight with ISIS and other terrorist groups. These individuals were radicalized in part by a few extremist preachers. The large number of Bahraini Shia youths serving prison sentences related to crimes committed during Bahrain’s 2011 uprising are expected to be released within the next several years. Prison conditions may increase the likelihood of radicalization to violence.
The government attempted outreach through initiatives such as the community police, which recruits Bahraini Shia to bridge the divide between predominantly Shia villages and the mostly Sunni (and largely non-Bahraini origin) police force. The government has not published statistics on the force’s composition or track record.
There is no overall strategic messaging campaign to counter terrorist narratives, although government leaders often publicly speak about tolerance and reducing sectarian rhetoric. In March, the Minister of Interior announced the launch of an initiative called “The Spirit of Belonging,” though there has been no public activity under this initiative to date. Government restrictions on freedom of political expression and association may also increase the likelihood of radicalization to violence.
International and Regional Cooperation: As of November, there were approximately 200 members of the Bahrain Defense Forces deployed in Yemen as part of the Saudi-led coalition against the Iran-backed Houthis. Bahrain is an active member of the Gulf Cooperation Council, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and the Arab League. The Bahraini government attended several conferences related to multilateral counterterrorism cooperation in 2018. Bahrain continued to offer its support for countering Iran’s malfeasance in the region, and contributed to UN reporting under UNSCR 2231.
Overview: Egypt is a counterterrorism partner of the United States, a member of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, and a member of the GCTF. Attacks in mainland Egypt increased in 2018 while the number of attacks in Sinai diminished compared with 2017. However, from July 2018 forward the trend in Sinai was fewer but deadlier attacks. Attacks that occurred focused largely on security forces and the Christian community, civilians, and, to a lesser extent, foreign tourists. With the February launch of Operation Sinai 2018, President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi’s government and the Egyptian Security Forces (ESF) continued a concerted effort to fight terrorist groups in North Sinai, but terrorist attacks continued in both North Sinai and mainland Egypt. ISIS branches and networks, including ISIS-Sinai Province (ISIS-SP) and an ISIS network in mainland Egypt, posed the most significant threats of terrorism. U.S.-designated terrorist groups Harakat Sawa’d Misr and Liwa al-Thawra also posed a continued threat, but with diminished activities compared with previous years.
2018 Terrorist Incidents: ISIS affiliates and other terrorist groups carried out frequent attacks throughout Egypt. Methods included complex assaults involving dozens of terrorists, IEDs, VBIEDs, ambushes, kidnappings, and targeted assassinations. Notable terrorist attacks in 2018 included the following:
- On April 14, 14 ISIS-SP attackers armed with firearms, missiles, and suicide vests conducted a complex attack against Egyptian Armed Forces (EAF) in al-Qusayma, North Sinai, killing eight EAF personnel.
- On August 12, a suicide bomber detonated prematurely as he approached the al-Azra Coptic Church in the Shubra neighborhood of Cairo.
- On September 4, an individual was on foot just outside the perimeter of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo when his backpack exploded, lightly wounding him. The attacker was arrested by Egyptian police.
- On November 2, assailants opened fire on three buses carrying Coptic pilgrims to a monastery in Minya, Upper Egypt. Seven Coptic pilgrims were killed, and 19 were wounded. ISIS later claimed responsibility.
- On December 29, a tour bus struck a roadside bomb near the Pyramids of Giza, killing three Vietnamese tourists and an Egyptian tour guide and injuring 11 others.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: In August, President al-Sisi ratified a law combating use of the internet by “extremist” and terrorist organizations to carry out attacks. The Anti-Cyber and Information Technology Crimes law prohibits “the dissemination of information on the movements of the army or police,” and “the promotion of the ideas of terrorist organizations.” Although the law had not been implemented by the end of 2018, human rights groups have criticized the law as too expansive, arguing that it could be used to block any website critical of the government.
In February, the EAF and ESF launched Operation Sinai 2018, with the stated objective of eliminating terrorism in Sinai. The operation saw increased coordination between the Ministries of Defense and Interior in targeting terrorist elements in North Sinai. In addition to military operations, the Egyptian government announced that it planned to adapt its counterterrorism strategy to address immediate humanitarian needs and long-term economic and social development goals, though this has long been part of the government’s talking points about its activities in the Sinai.
The National Security Sector of the Ministry of Interior (MOI) is primarily responsible for counterterrorism operations in the Nile Valley but also works with other elements of the MOI, the Egyptian General Intelligence Service, and the EAF.
Egypt’s most significant physical border security concerns were Libya, Sudan, and Gaza. At border crossings and airports, Egyptian authorities checked for the presence of security features in travel documents. They also scanned and cross-referenced documents with criminal databases containing derogatory information. Egypt maintains a terrorist watchlist with a simple listing for Egyptian immigration officials at the ports of entry and with detailed information maintained by the security services. The United States assisted Egypt’s counterterrorism efforts by providing training, equipment, and other assistance to its law enforcement security services.
Egypt indicated that it would require, and plans to formally request, international assistance to enhance its technical capabilities to implement UNSCR 2396 to counter terrorist travel.
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Egypt is a member of the Middle East and North Africa Financial Action Task Force (MENAFATF) and Egypt’s Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing Combating Unit (EMLCU) is a member of the Egmont Group. In 2018, EMLCU approved new customer due diligence procedures and know your customer rules.
Egypt has taken a leading role in the Egmont Group, serving as Chair of the Membership, Support, and Compliance Working Group. In 2018, EMLCU implemented SIRON, an automatic advanced analytics system developed by the UN for anti-money laundering efforts, across the Egyptian banking system. EMLCU works with the Egyptian National Security Agency on terrorism cases and with the Administrative Control Authority on public cases. EMLCU is a member of Egypt’s National Payments Council, which is chaired by President al-Sisi, and is responsible for coordinating government efforts to modernize payment methods in Egypt.
For additional information on money laundering and financial crimes, see the International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), Volume II, Money Laundering and Financial Crimes.
Countering Violent Extremism: Dar al-Iftaa, an official body that issues religious edicts and is associated with al-Azhar University, has taken the lead on CVE messaging and countering religious guidance from terrorist groups. In October, Dar al-Iftaa hosted its fourth international conference on global strategies to limit fatwa issuance to “authoritative religious institutions.” Last year’s conference resulted in the launch of the Global Fatwa Index that, according to Egypt, endorses a scholarly methodology for observing, analyzing, and evaluating fatwa discourses worldwide and developing a curriculum for students of fatwa around the world.
Al-Azhar continued to issue statements promoting tolerance and challenging ISIS statements as part of its domestic and online CVE messaging.
The Ministry of Islamic Endowments (Awqaf) continued to issue guidance to Egypt’s imams and provide a weekly theme for Friday sermons. In regard to increasing religious education opportunities and providing more leadership roles for women, Awqaf completed a training program in June on interpretation of religious texts for 300 female preachers, and in July the government published an action plan for renewing religious discourse that included hiring and training imams, expanding the role of women in religious preaching, and opening a training academy for preachers to help reach different segments of the public.
The Cairo Center for Conflict Resolution and Peacekeeping in Africa (CCCPA), under the auspices of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, provided training through its Preventing Radicalization and Extremism Leading to Terrorism (PRELT) program. PRELT aims to prevent the proliferation of “extremist” ideology among individuals in communities considered susceptible to terrorist recruitment. In 2018, CCCPA expanded its focus from sub-Saharan Africa into the Sahel.
International and Regional Cooperation: Egypt continued to support counterterrorism efforts through regional and multilateral organizations, including through the GCTF. Egypt currently co-chairs the GCTF East Africa Working Group with the EU, and in March hosted the working group’s annual plenary meeting in Cairo. As Chair of the Peace and Security Council of the AU, Egypt regularly prioritized discussions of counterterrorism issues. In January, Egypt used its chairmanship to organize a counterterrorism summit for heads-of-state, which focused on a comprehensive approach to counterterrorism. Egypt also announced a new counterterrorism center in Cairo for the Community of Sahel-Saharan States to promote cross-border cooperation in the Sahel-Saharan region.
Overview: By the end of 2018, Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) were in nominal control of all territories liberated from ISIS. Reverting to clandestine tactics following its loss of territory, ISIS increasingly resorted to targeted assassinations of police and local political leaders, along with IEDs and shooting attacks directed at both government and government-associated civilian targets. ISIS sought to reestablish support among populations in Ninewa, Kirkuk, Diyala, Salah ad Din, and Anbar provinces, in particular. Although ISIS maintained the capability to conduct deadly terrorist attacks in Iraq, these attacks resulted in fewer casualties in 2018 than in 2017. The Iran-backed, U.S.-designated FTO, Kata’ib Hizballah, continued to operate in Iraq during 2018. Iran-aligned Iraqi militias instigated violent and destabilizing activities in Iraq and within the region.
In 2018, the Departments of State and the Treasury designated as Specially Designated Global Terrorists several affiliates of Iran-backed Iraqi militias outside the control of the government. The Kurdistan Workers Party (commonly known as the PKK), a terrorist group headquartered in the mountains of northern Iraq, continued to conduct terrorist attacks in Turkey. Iraq continued its cooperation with the United States and the international community to counter terrorism and dismantle ISIS’s financial networks. Iraq continued to make progress implementing its 2016 AML/CFT law. The AML/CFT Committee, established in 2017, designated at least 34 individuals in 2018.
In 2018, following ISIS’s demonstrated use of chemical agents in territory it controlled between 2014 and 2017, the United States continued to work with Iraq to deny ISIS access to chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) materials and expertise strengthening the ability of Iraq’s government, academic institutions, and private sector to secure weaponizable chemical and biological materials and detect, disrupt, and respond effectively to suspected CBRN activity.
2018 Terrorist Incidents: According to the UN, acts of terrorism, violence, and armed conflict with ISIS killed more than 900 civilians and injured more than 1,600 as of November 30. This was a significant decrease from 2017, when roughly 3,000 civilians died and 4,600 were injured. ISIS continued to carry out suicide and hit-and-run attacks throughout the country. The most significant of these was a pair of coordinated suicide bombings in Baghdad’s al-Tayaran Square on January 15 that killed 38 Iraqis and wounded 105 others. Other prominent ISIS attacks included the following:
- On February 18, ISIS militants ambushed a convoy of pro-government militia fighters in Kirkuk governorate, killing at least 27 people.
- On April 12, a suicide bomber attacked a funeral for Sunni tribal fighters near Shirqat in Salah al-Din governorate, killing at least 25 mourners and injuring at least 18 others.
- On August 29, a suicide car bomber targeted a pro-government militia checkpoint near al-Qaim in Anbar governorate, killing 16 people and wounding 20 others.
- On September 28, Iran-backed terrorists were responsible for repeated incidents of fire on the U.S. Consulate in Basrah.
- On October 6, ISIS conducted its first attack in Fallujah since the city was liberated in June 2016.
- On November 8, a car bomb exploded near a restaurant in Mosul, Ninewa governorate, killing 13 people and wounding 23 others. This represented the first VBIED attack since Mosul’s liberation in July 2017.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: Iraq made no significant changes to its counterterrorism legal framework in 2018.
Iraq improved its ability to detect and prevent terrorist threats and continued to disrupt terrorist activities by detaining, arresting, and trying thousands of suspected terrorists in 2018. However, the lack of centralized databases continued to hinder Iraq’s ability to track the number of terrorism suspects it detained and arrested.
Iraq has multiple security, law enforcement, and intelligence organizations with overlapping responsibilities, including the Counterterrorism Service, the National Security Services, the Iraqi National Intelligence Service, military intelligence, and assorted Ministry of Interior units including national and local police. The United States assisted Iraqi counterterrorism efforts by providing training, equipment, and other assistance to such law enforcement organization. Iraq has identified improving interagency cooperation as a priority for its security sector reform program. As part of that program, the Ministry of Interior recognized the need to shift priorities from supporting major combat operations against ISIS to more traditional law enforcement activities such as criminal investigations and local policing. Significant portions of law enforcement infrastructure in liberated territories destroyed by ISIS – including prisons, border posts, and police stations – remain in ruins.
Border security remained a critical capability gap, as the ISF has limited capability to fully secure Iraq’s borders with Syria and Iran. Iraq and the United States are partnering to close this gap through broader deployment of and upgrades to the U.S.-provided PISCES. The Ministry of Interior shared biometric information on known and suspected terrorists as well as exemplars of its identity documents with the United States, INTERPOL, and other international partners.
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Iraq is a member of the Middle East and North Africa Financial Action Task Force (MENAFATF) and the Defeat-ISIS Coalition’s Counter-ISIS Finance Group. Iraq worked with FATF to improve strategic deficiencies in its AML/CFT regime. Iraq improved this regime with U.S. assistance, including issuing a set of regulations in accordance with its 2016 law, to help bolster its compliance with the FATF recommendations. In June 2018, FATF removed Iraq from monitoring under its ongoing global AML/CFT compliance process (“grey list”) of high-risk jurisdictions.
In 2018, the Government of Iraq – including the Central Bank of Iraq, law enforcement, and the judiciary – continued to dismantle ISIS’s financial networks and safeguard its financial institutions from exploitation by ISIS. Iraq enforced a national directive to prohibit financial transactions with banks and financial companies located in areas formerly controlled by ISIS (before their territorial defeat). It also shared a list of banned exchange houses and money transfer companies with regional regulators and took 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’s 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 violent extremism.
Many FTFs remain in Iraqi custody, and Iraq has detained a large number of ISIS-affiliated foreign women and children. Additionally, displaced Iraqis whose extended family members are suspected of supporting ISIS remained vulnerable to revenge attacks or retribution killings, or were denied access to services or freedom of movement. Consequently, ISIS-affiliated family members are often unwilling or unable to return to their place of origin. Iraq acknowledged that the return and reintegration of family members of suspected ISIS supporters, as well as the provision of fair and equal justice, is important to prevent future radicalization to violence.
International and Regional Cooperation: 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). Iraq continued to work with multilateral and regional organizations, including the UN, NATO, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, INTERPOL, and the Arab League to support counterterrorism efforts. In July, foreign ministers from the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS recognized the ISF’s efforts at a Coalition meeting in Brussels.
Overview: Israel was a committed counterterrorism partner in 2018, 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 determine areas of collaboration to address these challenges.
Israel faced threats on its northern border from Hizballah and along the northeastern frontier from Hizballah and other Iran-backed groups in Syria. Israeli security officials and politicians expressed concerns 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 and missiles to threaten Israel from Lebanon and Syria. In December, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) commenced Operation Northern Shield, exposing and neutralizing a series of Hizballah-constructed tunnels extending from Lebanon into Israel.
Along its southern border with Egypt and Gaza, Israel faced threats from terrorist organizations including Hamas, Palestine Islamic Jihad (PIJ), and ISIS-Sinai Province. Hamas and PIJ tunneling activities continued, as did Hamas-coordinated demonstrations and low-level violence along the Gaza security fence. Rocket attacks originating from Gaza resulted in one civilian fatality and numerous injuries in 2018.
2018 Terrorist Incidents: Israel experienced numerous terrorist attacks in 2018 involving weapons ranging from rockets and mortars to small arms and knives. The following is a partial list of terrorist incidents that occurred in 2018:
- On March 18, Abd al-Rahman Bani Fadel, a 28-year-old Palestinian man and West Bank resident, stabbed Israeli citizen Adiel Kolman in Jerusalem’s Old City. A nearby police officer intervened in the attack and killed Bani Fadel. Kolman sustained multiple stab wounds and later died from them.
- Since late March, Hamas coordinated weekly “March of Return” protests along the Gaza security fence, some of which drew tens of thousands of people. Armed terrorists breached the security fence, launched incendiary devices into Israel, and threw stones and other objects at IDF soldiers. Additionally, sniper attacks injured IDF forces and resulted in the death of at least one IDF soldier. Since April, militants sent hundreds of incendiary devices into southern Israel by kite and balloon, resulting in more than 7,000 acres burned, including a forest preserve and numerous farmed fields, causing more than US $2 million in damages.
- Since the end of May, Hamas and other terrorist groups have initiated four major exchanges of rocket and mortar fire from Gaza toward Israel, launching more than 750 rockets and mortar shells from Gaza toward Israel. The IDF confirmed that the Iron Dome, Israel’s air defense system, intercepted more than 100 of these projectiles. Several others landed in civilian residential areas; one was a direct hit on a home in the city of Ashkelon, resulting in one civilian fatality. During November 12-13, more than 400 rockets were fired from Gaza into Israel, the highest number in a 24-hour-period since Operation Protective Edge (2014), forcing schools to close and civilians to take shelter in affected areas.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: Israel has a robust legal framework to combat terrorism within its borders and to promote international legal assistance in the investigation and prosecution of terrorists.
On March 7, the Knesset passed an amendment to the 2016 Combating Terrorism Law that authorized the police to issue restrictions on the release of bodies of terrorists who died in the course of perpetrating or attempting to perpetrate terrorist acts. The amendment also provided police with the authority to impose restrictions on the processing of terrorists’ funerals.
On April 30, the Knesset passed an amendment to the Basic Law that restricts the right of an individual convicted of a serious terrorism or security offense to serve as a Knesset member.
Israeli security forces took numerous significant law enforcement actions against suspected terrorists and terrorist groups. The following examples represent a fraction of the law enforcement actions taken in 2018:
- In April, Israel Security Agency (ISA) officials, in coordination with the Israel National Police (INP) and the IDF, arrested 20 Hamas members from Nablus who planned terrorist attacks across Israel and the West Bank. The cell’s reported leaders were 35-year-old Mu’tazem Muhammad Salem and 33-year-old Faras Kamel Zavidi, both Palestinian residents of Nablus. During the ISA’s investigation, it uncovered several explosive devices allegedly for use in planned attacks in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
- On October 8, the Jerusalem District Court sentenced Darham Jabarin, an Israeli citizen and resident of Umm al-Fahm, to 42 months’ imprisonment for having contacts with a foreign agent and providing support to Hamas.
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: In December, Israel became a full member of the FATF, and the body adopted Israel’s Mutual Evaluation Report completed jointly by the FATF and MONEYVAL, a FATF-style regional body. Israel’s FIU, the Israeli Money Laundering and Terror Finance Prohibition Authority, is a member of the Egmont Group.
On February 12, the Knesset passed an amendment to the 2016 Combating Terrorism Law that transferred terrorism designation authority from the Ministers’ Committee for Security to the Minister of Defense to ensure that Israel enforced UN sanctions on foreign terrorist organizations and individuals until it could complete a domestic review process of the designation.
Countering Violent Extremism: The Ministry of Public Security supported and funded Israel’s flagship CVE initiative, City Without Violence. One hundred fifty-one municipalities’ implemented education and social welfare projects to counter violence, crime, and terrorism. The program emphasized partnerships with the INP, 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. The Ministry of Education headed another initiative, which encouraged schools to promote shared citizenship educational programs.
Former IDF Chief of the General Staff Lieutenant General Gadi Eizenkot attended the last two International Counter-Violent Extremist Organizations conferences hosted by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington.
International and Regional Cooperation: There were no changes in 2018.
The West Bank and Gaza
Overview: The Palestinian Authority (PA) continued its counterterrorism and law enforcement efforts in the West Bank, where Hamas, PIJ, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine remained present, though the PA also continued to provide payments to convicted terrorists and the families of deceased terrorists. The PA Security Forces (PASF) constrained the ability of those organizations to conduct attacks, including through arrests of Hamas members planning attacks against Israelis. Per Oslo-era agreements, the PA exercised varying degrees of authority over the West Bank. The IDF and ISA arrested members of terrorist organizations operating in the West Bank.
In 2018, the United States assisted the PA’s law enforcement efforts, which contributed to counterterrorism capacity building by providing training, equipment, and infrastructure support to the PASF. U.S. training and support assisted in the PA’s continuing work to sustain and further develop professional, self-sufficient, and capable security forces. The United States also assisted the PA with criminal justice investigations and prosecutions of terrorist financing and terrorist-related activity.
Palestinians committed acts of violence and terrorism in the West Bank in 2018. The number of Palestinian terrorist attacks against Israelis in the West Bank was lower compared with the heightened period of violence from October 2015 to April 2016; however, Palestinians continued to commit stabbings, shootings, and vehicular attacks against Israelis.
Israelis, including settlers, committed acts of violence, including “price tag” attacks (property crimes and violent acts against Palestinians) in the West Bank. These incidents increased in number in 2018 over the previous year, though there were no reported fatalities.
Hamas maintained security control of Gaza. Several militant groups launched rocket attacks against Israel, threw Molotov cocktails, planted IEDs, and launched incendiary kites and devices toward Israel during demonstrations along the Israel-Gaza security fence. The primary limitation on PA counterterrorism efforts in Gaza remained Hamas’ control of the area and the resulting inability of the PASF to operate there.
The PA and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) continued to provide “martyr payments” to the families of Palestinian individuals killed carrying out a terrorist act. The PA and PLO also provided payments to Palestinians in Israeli prisons, including those convicted of acts of terrorism against Israelis. The amounts of the payments increased in relation to the length of the military court sentence. These payments (as well as separate canteen stipends that the Israeli government allows for prisoners) were first initiated by the PLO in 1965 and have continued under the PA since the Oslo Accords with Israel. Israeli government officials criticized this practice as incentivizing acts of terror. In 2018, the Knesset adopted a new Israeli law expected to be implemented in 2019, which mandates withholding from PA custom clearance revenues an amount equivalent to PA prisoner and martyr payments, based on Israeli calculations.
2018 Terrorist Incidents:
- In January, Palestinian assailants killed an Israeli civilian in the northern West Bank in a drive-by shooting.
- In March, a Palestinian man rammed a vehicle into a group of Israeli soldiers in the northern West Bank, killing two Israeli soldiers and wounding two others.
- In July, a Palestinian man infiltrated an Israeli settlement northeast of Jerusalem and stabbed three Israeli civilians, killing one and wounding two others.
- In September, a Palestinian man fatally stabbed an American-Israeli resident of the Efrat settlement outside a shopping center near the Gush Etzion junction in the West Bank.
- In December, Palestinian assailants opened fire at a bus stop in the northern West Bank, killing one individual and injuring seven others. That same week, a Palestinian assailant shot and killed two IDF soldiers in a drive-by shooting near a traffic junction in the central West Bank.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: The West Bank and Gaza made no significant changes to their counterterrorism legal framework in 2018. The Palestinian Legislative Council has not met since 2007 and dissolved in December 2018.
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. The United States helped enhance cooperation between security service investigators and public prosecutors.
The Palestinian Civil Police’s (PCP’s) forensic laboratory continued to improve its operations in 2018. The laboratory conducted basic manual analyses and examinations of firearm evidence, documentary evidence, and drug and chemical analysis. With U.S. support, the PCP forensic laboratory is seeking international standards certification.
Per Oslo-era agreements, Israel controlled border security in the West Bank.
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: The PA is a member of the Middle East and North Africa Financial Action Task Force (MENAFATF). The Palestinian Financial Follow-Up Unit is the PA’s FIU.
In 2018, the PA completed its first-ever National Risk Assessment to identify vulnerabilities to terrorist financing and money laundering within the PA government, banking, and commercial sectors. The PA is currently drafting a strategy to counter these vulnerabilities in advance of its FATF evaluation. The PA is also drafting its first prosecutors’ manual on policy and procedures to investigate and prosecute terrorist financing and money laundering cases.
The Palestinian Monetary Authority increased regulations and restrictions on the more than 300 money changers in the West Bank. Hamas licensed and regulated money changers in Gaza. According to business contacts in Gaza, Hamas does not impose reporting requirements on Gaza-based money changers.
Countering Violent Extremism: The PA’s Palestinian Broadcasting Company’s code of conduct states that it does not allow programming that encourages “violence against any person or institution on the basis of race, religion, political beliefs, or sex.” Some official PA media channels, as well as social media accounts affiliated with the ruling political movement Fatah, have featured content praising or condoning acts of violence. Palestinian leaders did not always publicly condemn individual terrorist attacks or speak out publicly against members of their institutions who advocated for violence. However, PA President Mahmoud Abbas maintained a public commitment to non-violence.
The PA maintained control over the content of Friday sermons delivered in about 1,800 West Bank mosques to ensure they do not endorse incitement to violence. The PA Minister of Awqaf and Religious Affairs distributed approved themes weekly and prohibited incitement to violence.
International and Regional Cooperation: The PA is an active member of the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. The “State of Palestine” acceded to INTERPOL in 2017.
Overview: Jordan remained a committed partner on counterterrorism and CVE in 2018. As a regional leader in the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, Jordan played an important role in degrading the terrorist group’s territorial control and operational reach. Jordan continued to face a persistent threat of terrorist activity in 2018, 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 expressed interest in attacking both hard and soft targets, such as high-profile public events, hotels, and tourist locations. Jordanian security forces thwarted several plots and apprehended numerous terrorists. Prominent terrorist incidents included an ISIS-inspired attack in Fuheis and an ensuing counterterrorism raid in Salt that resulted in the deaths of five members of the Jordanian security forces. Coordination among Jordan’s security services for terrorism response capabilities and prevention remains a challenge.
Border security remains an overarching priority for the Jordanian government, given fears that violence from the conflict in neighboring Syria will spill over into Jordan. There were many Jordanian nationals among the FTFs in Iraq and Syria. 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 2018 as co-chair with the United States of the GCTF FTF Working Group.
2018 Terrorist Incidents:
- On August 10, ISIS-inspired terrorists detonated an IED beneath a police vehicle outside a music festival in Fuheis, resulting in the deaths of two police officers. Security forces traced the terrorist cell to a residence in nearby Salt and conducted a raid, engaging the terrorists, who opened fire, resulting in a shootout that inadvertently set off additional explosives stockpiled at the building. This confrontation resulted in the deaths of five members of the security forces; 10 others were wounded.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: Jordan made no significant changes to its counterterrorism legal framework in 2018.
In November, the State Security Court convicted 10 people for their involvement in the 2016 shooting attacks in Karak in southern Jordan, which left 14 people dead and 34 others injured. Sentences ranged from three years to life in prison with hard labor.
The General Intelligence Directorate 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. Although Jordan’s civilian and military security agencies are more professional and effective than others in the region, increased terrorist threats continued to strain their incident response capabilities and coordination mechanisms. The Jordanian government continued to implement measures to improve interagency coordination among security agencies during responses to terrorism-related events.
A U.S. criminal complaint was unsealed in 2017 charging Ahlam Aref Ahmad Al-Tamimi, a Jordanian national in her mid-30s, 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 restaurant 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. Also unsealed was a warrant for Al-Tamimi’s arrest and an affidavit in support of the criminal complaint and arrest warrant. In 2018, Jordan continued to cite a court ruling that its constitution forbids the extradition of Jordanian nationals. The United States regards the extradition treaty as valid.
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. The Jordan-Syria border crossing at Jaber/Nassib reopened on October 15.
In early 2018, Royal Jordanian Airlines (the only Jordanian airline with non-stop flights to the United States) and the Queen Alia International Airport implemented heightened security interviews for passengers at check-in and security screenings for powders in luggage, in line with Transportation Security Agency requirements for airlines with non-stop airline service to the United States. Jordan received training, equipment, and other assistance through the Department of State’s Antiterrorism Assistance program and concentrated on strengthening the security services’ counterterrorism capabilities, including the inauguration of a regional training center.
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Jordan is a member of the Middle East and North Africa Financial Action Task Force (MENAFATF) and the Defeat-ISIS Coalition’s Counter-ISIS Finance Group (CIFG). It hosted the ninth CIFG meeting in February. Jordan’s FIU, the Anti-Money Laundering and Counter Terrorist Financing Unit (AMLU), is a member of the Egmont Group.
AMLU is the national focal point for international coordination in accordance with the UN Security Council ISIL (Da’esh) and al-Qa’ida sanctions regime. In this capacity, AMLU routinely received and responded to requests for information from counterparts and regularly disseminated the names of UN-designated individuals and entities to financial institutions. Jordan monitored U.S. designations under Executive Order 13224 and shared this information internally. In preparation for Jordan’s 2018 MENAFATF Mutual Evaluation Review, and with technical assistance from the International Monetary Fund, the Jordanian government adopted a risk-based approach to monitoring exchange houses and non-profit organizations to better target resources where they were most needed. AMLU received 666 suspicious transaction reports through November 2018, compared with 654 in 2017.
Countering Violent Extremism: Jordan worked with UNDP to develop a holistic National Action Plan on Preventing Violent Extremism to establish roles and responsibilities for government entities and promote the involvement of non-governmental organizations, civil society, youth, and the private sector in CVE initiatives. The Jordanian government continued to centralize training of imams and messaging for Friday prayers in an effort to forestall what it viewed as radical versions of Islam. Irbid, Karak, and Zarqa are members of the Strong Cities Network and worked to develop capacity in local communities to prevent violence and build community cohesion.
International and Regional Cooperation: Jordan is a major non-NATO ally, a member of the GCTF, and co-chairs the GCTF FTF Working Group with the United States. It hosted the annual plenary meeting in Amman in April. Jordan is a member of the Arab League, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism, and the Proliferation Security Initiative.
Jordan demonstrated its global leadership in counterterrorism by convening multiple senior-level meetings on various security issues as part of the Aqaba Process in 2018, a forum launched by King Abdullah in 2015. Jordan hosted Aqaba Process meetings on security challenges in East Africa and Southeast Asia in 2018. The Aqaba Process aimed to maintain international and regional cooperation in the fight against terrorism with a holistic approach and to discuss security challenges in regions around the world that are dealing with terrorism hotspots.
On March 22, the Department of State and the Government of Jordan jointly inaugurated a regional counterterrorism training facility to increase the training capacity of both Jordanian forces and regional partners. To date, the regional Antiterrorism Assistance facility supported the training of 23 partner nations.
On October 9, the Jordan Armed Forces’ Military Center for Counter Terrorism and Extremism hosted more than 300 security practitioners, academics, and civil society and business leaders from 20 countries at the Amman Forum on Countering Violent Extremism. The event was launched in collaboration with the U.S. Embassy in Amman and U.S. non-profit organization Spirit of America Worldwide.
In coordination with the U.S. government, Jordan continued to host and conduct training for Palestinian Authority Security Forces and Civil Defense, in addition to other police forces from the region.
Overview: The Government of Kuwait focused on improving its capacity to implement counterterrorism arrangements concluded in previous years. Kuwait joined the United States and other members of the Terrorist Financing Targeting Center (TFTC) in coordinated domestic designations of individuals and entities associated with Hizballah and the Taliban. Kuwait is a regional leader in the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS and co-leads, with Turkey and the Netherlands, the Coalition’s FTF Working Group. In February, Kuwait hosted a full Coalition ministerial meeting at which the Coalition’s Guiding Principles were affirmed.
2018 Terrorist Incidents: There were no reported terrorist incidents in Kuwait in 2018.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: Kuwait made no significant changes to its counterterrorism legal framework or border security procedures in 2018.
In January, the Court of Appeals upheld the sentences of seven defendants convicted of funding ISIS and training ISIS members to use arms. The first defendant, a Lebanese national, was also convicted of fighting for ISIS and sentenced to 15 years. The other six defendants (two Kuwaitis, two Saudis, one Syrian, and one Egyptian) were sentenced to 10 years each.
Also in January, the Criminal Court, after finding insufficient evidence, acquitted five Syrians and one Iraqi of transferring money to Syria through an exchange bureau to finance and support ISIS.
In March, the Court of Appeals upheld the 2017 sentencing of a Filipina national to 10 years in prison, followed by deportation, for her affiliation with ISIS. The subject was in contact with the terrorist group in Libya where her husband was an ISIS fighter. She confessed to being a member of ISIS and plotting terrorist attacks in Kuwait.
In July, the Court of Cassation upheld the Court of Appeals’ five-year prison sentence of a Kuwaiti citizen for joining ISIS and fighting for the terrorist group in Syria. Charges also included exporting and selling Syrian oil for the terrorist group’s benefit.
During 2018, the Kuwaiti government participated in multiple Department of State-supported capacity-building workshops that focused on counterterrorism or counterterrorism financing. In addition, Kuwait concentrated on law enforcement and judicial capacity building across a broad spectrum of government agencies. For example, in December the Department of Justice’s Office of Overseas Prosecutorial Development, Assistance, and Training (OPDAT) organized a three-day, AML/CFT training for practitioners from across Kuwait’s AML/CFT regime, to include Kuwait’s FIU, the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, and others on a broad spectrum of investigative techniques often used in terrorism investigations.
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Kuwait is a member of the Middle East and North Africa Financial Action Task Force (MENAFATF), the Defeat-ISIS Coalition’s Counter-ISIS Finance Group, and the TFTC. Kuwait’s FIU is a member of the Egmont Group.
In 2018, Kuwait hosted two meetings of the TFTC Executive Committee in Kuwait City. In May, TFTC member states designated individuals and entities associated with Hizballah. However, Kuwait chose not to designate Hasan Nasrallah, the Secretary General of Hizballah. In October, Kuwait joined its TFTC partners in designating nine individuals associated with the Taliban, including those facilitating Iranian support to bolster the terrorist group.
In 2018, Kuwait’s National Committee on CFT finalized its National CFT Risk Assessment, which contains plans and recommendations that will be presented to the Kuwait Cabinet.
In October, five Kuwaitis who work in counterterrorism and the financial industry participated in the Department of State’s International Visitor Leadership Program, meeting with professional counterparts and visiting U.S. public and private sector organizations related to combating terrorist financing and FTFs.
Countering Violent Extremism: Kuwait’s Ministry of Education implemented 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 to violence. The Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs maintained a training program for imams and a separate program enabling social salon (diwanya) owners to invite religious scholars to engage attendees and counter the potential presence of “radicalizing influences.” In August, the Ministry announced a new annual award for the imam who offers an innovative initiative in the field of “countering extremism.”
International and Regional Cooperation: In January 2018, Kuwait joined the UNSC for a two-year term and serves as chair of the UNSC’s Democratic Republic of the Congo Sanctions Committee and vice chair of the Somalia and Central African Republic sanctions committees. In February, Kuwait hosted the Kuwait International Conference for Reconstruction of Iraq. In June, Kuwait participated in the FATF-MENAFATF joint plenary meeting in Paris. Kuwait is also an active member of the Arab League and of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. As a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Kuwait has been playing a lead role in mediating the GCC dispute among Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates on the one hand and Qatar on the other.
Overview: Lebanon is a member of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS and a committed partner in countering terrorism. In 2018, the United States provided security assistance and training to the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) to increase the LAF’s capacity as the sole legitimate defender of Lebanon’s sovereignty. The United States also worked with Lebanon’s defense and law enforcement organizations, such as the Internal Security Forces (ISF), to build its counterterrorism capabilities and its ability to investigate and prosecute local terrorism cases. Terrorist groups operating in Lebanon included U.S.-designated FTOs such as Hizballah, Hamas, ISIS, and the Abdullah Azzam Brigades. Hizballah remained the most capable terrorist organization in Lebanon, controlling areas in the Bekaa Valley, southern Lebanon, and south Beirut. In September, Hizballah announced that its armed militia had advanced its military capabilities and that the group possessed precision-guided missiles. In December, Israel announced the discovery of Hizballah-constructed tunnels that crossed the Lebanon-Israel frontier, several of which were later confirmed by the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).
Despite the Lebanese government’s official policy of disassociation from regional conflicts, Hizballah continued its military role in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen in support of the Syrian regime. Hamas and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine continued to operate in Lebanon’s 12 Palestinian refugee camps. The camps remained outside the control of Lebanese security forces and continued to pose a security threat because of their potential for militant recruitment and terrorist infiltration. Several terrorists on the FBI’s Most Wanted List and who are the subjects of the Department of State’s Rewards for Justice program are reportedly residing in Lebanon.
2018 Terrorist Incidents:
- On February 4, a LAF soldier was killed in Tripoli, and seven others were wounded while confronting and arresting ISIS militants.
- Lebanon-based terrorist group 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. In 2018, Lebanon took steps to adapt its laws to improve the investigation of cyber activities related to terrorism. The Central Bank and Lebanon’s security services held the fourth edition of the Anti-Cybercrime Forum. The LAF, the ISF, the General Directorate of General Security, and the General Directorate of State Security are the primary government agencies responsible for counterterrorism. Although cooperation among the agencies was inconsistent, they took steps to improve information sharing and were receptive to additional capacity building and reforms.
In July, the LAF conducted a narco-terrorism raid targeting a drug dealer whom the LAF said funded activities of terrorist groups. In August, the ISF foiled an alleged ISIS plot to attack LAF checkpoints and churches in northern Lebanon. In September, Lebanese security forces detained an individual linked to ISIS over a plot to poison the LAF’s food and water supply. In November, the LAF conducted counter narco-terrorist operations in the Baalbek region in pursuit of fugitives of a dangerous armed gang. The security services involved in these successful operations benefited from significant U.S.-provided capacity-building assistance.
In 2018, Lebanese security services collaborated with the United States on numerous instances to foil terrorist plots and investigate and apprehend individuals involved in terrorism. However, corruption, unclear delineation of responsibilities among Lebanon’s security services, and an outdated judicial system with backlogged cases hampered law enforcement efforts. In addition, Hizballah’s role in Lebanon’s confessional power-sharing system continued to hinder government actions against the group’s terrorist activities.
The LAF has primary responsibility for securing Lebanon’s borders. In 2018, it further developed a network of border positions along the Lebanon-Syria border, including the construction of positions in territory previously occupied by ISIS. While Lebanon was not a source country for WMD components, its porous borders with Syria posed risks. In 2018, the LAF and other security services partnered with the U.S. government to detect and prevent the proliferation and trafficking of WMD. Lebanon collects biographic data for travelers at the Beirut International Airport, PNR data for commercial flights, and API. In 2018, the United States worked with Lebanon to develop a central repository to process and share biometric data among Lebanese security services.
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Lebanon held the presidency of the Middle East and North Africa Financial Action Task Force (MENAFATF) in 2018. The FIU of Lebanon’s Central Bank—the Special Investigation Commission (SIC) – is a member of the Egmont Group. Lebanon is also a member of the Defeat-ISIS Coalition’s Counter-ISIS Finance Group.
In June, the Central Bank issued two Circulars requiring Collective Investment Schemes and Financial Intermediation Institutions to comply with the AML/CFT law and with relevant Central Bank or SIC regulations and directives. The Central Bank and members of the Association of Lebanese Banks reaffirmed their commitment to comply with U.S. sanctions, in accordance with Central Bank directives. Cooperation between the SIC and local enforcement authorities on terrorist financing cases improved in 2018. During the first nine months of the year, the SIC received seven terrorism and terrorism financing cases from local sources. The SIC was able to identify and freeze assets and referred four terrorism financing cases to the general prosecutor. The SIC stated that terrorism financing prosecutions and convictions rendered by the military court have increased.
For additional information on money laundering and financial crimes, see the International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), Volume II, Money Laundering and Financial Crimes.
Countering Violent Extremism: In March, Lebanon adopted its National Strategy for Preventing Violent Extremism. Anjar, Madjal, Saida, and Tripoli are members of the Strong Cities Network, and Lebanon is working to include other vulnerable cities around the country. The LAF continues to implement a comprehensive counter-messaging strategy that amplifies what it views as moderate voices and uses television spots, social media, billboards, and SMS messages to counter terrorist narratives.
International and Regional Cooperation: Lebanon supported counterterrorism efforts in regional organizations and participated in counterterrorism finance programs. The nation offered training to regional peers in international standards to combat terrorist financing. In February, Lebanon published in its official gazette that it would accede to the 1999 International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism.
Overview: Libya’s UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) was a reliable counterterrorism partner in 2018, participated in the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, and continued to work with the United States to counter the spread of terrorist groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant-Libya (ISIL-Libya) and al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Terrorist groups continued to exploit the country’s political instability and limited government presence, and some groups have integrated themselves within local communities – particularly in the South. Libya was the target of dozens of terrorist attacks in 2018. Through coordination with the GNA, the United States conducted periodic precision airstrikes on ISIL-Libya and AQIM cells. The GNA continued to cooperate with the United States on the investigation of suspected terrorists. The eastern Libya-based Libyan National Army (LNA) announced in June that a military operation had cleared the city of Derna of extremist fighters. The LNA, led by General Khalifa Haftar and not aligned with the GNA, has expressed the goal of ridding Libya of terrorist groups.
2018 Terrorist Incidents: ISIL-Libya and al-Qa’ida-aligned terrorists carried out dozens of attacks throughout 2018. Methods included suicide bombings, VBIEDs, ambushes, kidnappings, and targeted assassinations. The following is a partial list of terrorist incidents that occurred in 2018:
- On May 2, ISIS fighters attacked the High National Electoral Commission headquarters in Tripoli, killing 11 people.
- On September 10, ISIS fighters attacked the offices of the National Oil Corporation in Tripoli, killing two staff members.
- On November 24, ISIS fighters attacked a police station in the southeastern town of Tazirbu, killing eight police officers and kidnapping 11 individuals.
- On December 25, ISIS operatives conducted an attack against the Libyan Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Tripoli, killing three people.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: Libya lacks a comprehensive counterterrorism 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 AU’s Convention on the Prevention and Combating of Terrorism, which requires states to criminalize terrorist acts under their national laws.
The GNA continued to support and seek international cooperation to combat ISIS. The GNA conducted consultations to develop a counterterrorism strategy, including a planning conference supported by the United Kingdom and the EU, but had not passed any legislation by the end of 2018.
A multitude of organizations under the GNA claimed counterterrorism responsibilities, such as the Counterterrorism Unit, the Counterterrorism Task Force (CTTF), the Central Investigations Division, the General Investigations Division, and the Libyan Intelligence Service. Because of the limited reach of these organizations, however, they were not effective in deterring or reducing terrorist activities beyond their localized areas of control. Libyan law enforcement personnel lacked clear mandates and the capacity to detect, deter, respond to, or investigate terrorist incidents because of continued political and security force fragmentation. The CTTF has begun efforts to work with foreign partner forces to train and build capacity to counter terrorist activity in Tripoli and areas around Misrata.
In many parts of Libya, armed groups, rather than state institutions, provide security and law enforcement functions, including detaining 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. Non-state armed groups often overmatch formal security structures.
The Libyan government lacked a comprehensive border management strategy and was unable to secure the country’s thousands of miles of land and maritime borders, enabling the illicit flow of fuel, goods, weapons, antiquities, narcotics, migrants, and FTFs that pose serious security challenges to the region. The GNA has requested international support to enhance its border security capacity and has participated in discussions with its southern neighbors to improve security and monitoring along Libya’s southern borders.
Security at Libya’s airports is minimal, with limited use of PNR systems or biometric technology. Libya, however, is working with the Department of State to enhance security measures, to include biometric screening, at Tripoli’s Mitiga International Airport. The Department of State provided training to Libyan airport officials, border guards, customs agents, and police 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. Libya lacked the resources, manpower, and training to conduct sufficient maritime patrols to interdict or dissuade illicit maritime trafficking and irregular migration, although Italy and the European Union worked with the Libyan Naval Coastguard to increase the effectiveness of the organization, including command and control.
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Libya is a member of the Middle East and North Africa Financial Action Task Force (MENAFATF) and the Defeat-ISIS Coalition’s Counter-ISIS Finance Group. Libya’s Minister of Interior made public statements and bilateral requests to develop counter-terrorism financing legislation and capacities.
Countering Violent Extremism: There were no significant changes in 2018.
Regional and International Cooperation: Many international organizations and diplomatic missions have reestablished a limited presence in Tripoli, since nearly all evacuated the capital in 2014. Other countries and organizations maintain a permanent presence in Tunis, Tunisia. The political conflict and limited international presence in Libya severely restricted counterterrorism cooperation. International assistance, including U.S. government-provided training on airport security and land border management, increased in 2018. Other border security initiatives – through the EU Border Assistance Mission, UNDP and UNODC – focused on improving policing and criminal justice functions and counterterrorism legislation and legal frameworks. Libya is a member of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the Arab League, and has participated in meetings of the GCTF’s West Africa Regional Capacity-Building Working Group.
Overview: The United States and Morocco have excellent and long-standing counterterrorism cooperation. The Government of Morocco continued its comprehensive counterterrorism strategy that includes vigilant security measures, regional and international cooperation, and counter-radicalization policies. In 2018, Morocco’s counterterrorism efforts largely mitigated its risk of terrorism, although 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. Morocco experienced its first terrorist incident since 2011 with the killing of two Scandinavian tourists in December. 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 the Netherlands.
2018 Terrorist Incidents: In December 2018, two Scandinavian tourists were killed outside of Marrakesh in an ISIS-inspired attack. This was the first terrorist incident in Morocco since 2011.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: In 2018, Morocco completed a draft law to manage trade in dual-use goods, which would give Moroccan law enforcement the authority to stop the illicit trade and transfer of goods that could be used to create WMDs or to support the development of a WMD program.
In 2018, Moroccan law enforcement under the coordination of the Ministry of Interior, aggressively targeted and reported to have arrested 71 individuals and effectively dismantled more than 20 terrorists cells planning to attack a range of targets, including public buildings, prominent figures, and tourist sites. Moroccan law enforcement leveraged intelligence collection, police work, and collaboration with international partners to conduct counterterrorism operations.
The Central Bureau of Judicial Investigation (BCIJ) remains the primary law enforcement agency responsible for counterterrorism 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 2018:
- In March, Moroccan authorities dismantled an eight-person cell that was allegedly planning terrorist attacks in the northern city of Tangier and in central Morocco, seizing hunting weapons, military uniforms, and electronic devices.
- In July, Moroccan authorities arrested four individuals suspected of being connected with ISIS and operating in four cities across the country, as well as linked to a terrorist cell dismantled in May operating in Morocco and Spain.
- In September, Moroccan authorities dismantled a 12-person cell operating in Casablanca and Tangier, which was allegedly planning terrorist attacks and seeking to join ISIS in Syria.
Moroccan law enforcement agencies participated in a wide range of U.S.-sponsored programs to improve the country’s technical and investigative capabilities, including financial investigation, intelligence analysis, and cybersecurity.
In January 2018, the Moroccan Royal Armed Forces created the Joint Standing Committee on Special Operations. The creation of this committee codifies into the military doctrine a single organization responsible for the organizing, training, development, and equipping of all the Moroccan military forces responsible for conducting counterterrorism operations.
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: There were no significant changes in 2018. Morocco is a member of the Middle East and North Africa Financial Action Task Force (MENAFATF) and its FIU, known as the Unité de Traitement du Renseignement Financier, is a member of the Egmont Group.
Countering Violent Extremism: Morocco has a comprehensive CVE strategy that prioritizes economic and human development in addition to 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 moderate. The Ministry of Endowments and Islamic Affairs has developed an educational curriculum for Morocco’s nearly 50,000 imams as well as for female students (mourchidates). 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 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. In August, King Mohammed VI pardoned 14 detainees following their renunciation of terrorist views after their successful completion of the DGAPR rehabilitation program.
USAID continued to address youth marginalization in areas of Morocco more vulnerable to recruitment by terrorist organizations. USAID’s Community Oriented Policing Activity provided opportunities for dialogue that have resulted in greater trust and a freer flow of information between police and communities.
International and Regional Cooperation: Morocco is currently a co-chair of the GCTF with the Netherlands. Morocco hosted two GCTF events in 2018, the “Initiative to Address Homegrown Terrorism” and the “Workshop on Countering Violent Extremism in Prisons.” The former initiative, co-led by Morocco and the United States, resulted in the “Rabat-Washington Good Practices on the Prevention, Detection, Intervention, and Response to Homegrown Terrorism” that GCTF ministers endorsed in September 2018. Also in September, Morocco co-launched with the United States the GCTF “Initiative on Improving Capabilities for Detecting and Interdicting Terrorist Travel Through Enhanced Terrorist Screening and Information Sharing,” with the goal of developing good practices for interdicting terrorist travel through building watchlist capability, improving border control, and increasing information sharing. In June, Morocco hosted a Political Directors Meeting of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS with a regional focus on Africa. In January, AU members elected Morocco to the Peace and Security Council of the AU, after Morocco rejoined the AU in 2017.
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 Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership (TSCTP). Morocco also has strong cooperation with European partners – especially Belgium, France, and Spain – to thwart potential terrorist threats in Europe.
Overview: Oman is an important regional counterterrorism partner that actively works to prevent terrorists from conducting attacks or operating in the country. The Omani government in 2018 remained concerned about the conflict in Yemen and the potential for al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and ISIS-Yemen to threaten Oman’s land and maritime borders. Omani officials regularly engaged with U.S. officials on counterterrorism, but rarely broadcasted their 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 counterterrorism 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 Terrorist Finance Targeting Center (TFTC). The Government of Oman issued several statements condemning terrorist attacks around the world in 2018.
2018 Terrorist Incidents: There were no terrorist attacks reported in Oman in 2018.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: Oman released a new penal code by Royal Decree 7/2018 in January. The new 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 new 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.
Counterterrorism investigations, crisis responses, and border security capabilities were limited by local capacity and a challenging operating environment because of 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 counterterrorism jurisdiction. The Sultan’s Special Forces and the Royal Oman Police (ROP) Special Task Force are Oman’s primary counterterrorism response forces. The Royal Office (RO) 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 Government of Oman recognized the need to improve its capabilities and took advantage of U.S. counterterrorism and law enforcement training and assistance. In 2018, the ROP Coast Guard, ROP Customs, and the RO itself participated in U.S. Export Control and Related Border Security program aimed at improving the government’s interdiction and investigation capabilities at air, land, and sea ports of entry. Additionally, the ROP Coast Guard participated in an exchange trip to the United States to observe U.S. port security procedures and to conduct meetings with U.S. officials.
Oman continued to participate in the Department of State’s Antiterrorism Assistance (ATA) program in 2018, further developing both hard and soft skills related to counterterrorism operations and investigations. Additional ATA training concentrated on crisis response planning, border security, exercise development, and maritime security. Omani security officials representing the ROP, the Royal Army of Oman, the RO, and multiple civilian agencies participated in the training.
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. Oman’s border with Yemen, which features rugged, mountainous terrain, further challenges border security efforts. Despite 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. Representatives of several civilian agencies also traveled to the United States in December 2018 to participate in an ATA-funded training program aimed at improving interagency crisis coordination.
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Oman is a member of the Middle East and North Africa Financial Action Task Force (MENAFATF) and the Riyadh-based TFTC. In May, representatives of Oman’s National Committee to Combat Money Laundering and Terrorism Finance, the Ministry of Justice, the Central Bank, and several other agencies attended MENAFATF’s 27th meeting in Beirut. In September, Oman’s FIU, the National Center for Financial Information, hosted a workshop on AML/CFT. Finally, Oman Public Prosecution worked with the U.S. Department of Justice in 2018 to coordinate a counterterrorism financing training program for relevant Omani government agencies.
Royal Decree 30/2016, Oman’s CFT law, requires financial institutions, private industry, and non-profit organizations to screen transactions for money laundering or terrorist financing and requires the collection of “know your customer” data for wire transfers. The CFT law also consolidates CFT authority within the National Center for Financial Information and establishes the Center as an independent government entity. While progress has been made, numerous gaps remain. These include completing the drafting and implementation of certification procedures for AML and CFT, issuing directives for the immediate freezing and seizure of the assets of persons and entities on the UN sanctions list under the UN Security Council ISIL (Da’esh) and al-Qa’ida sanctions regime and its successor resolutions, and designating wire transfer amounts for customer due diligence procedures.
Countering Violent Extremism: The full nature and scope of Oman’s CVE initiatives remained opaque in 2018, but it is believed Oman maintains tightly controlled and non-public initiatives to counter terrorist recruitment. Radicalization to violence in Oman was not considered a significant threat in 2018.
As in recent years, the Omani government promoted an advocacy campaign, “Islam in Oman,” designed to highlight and encourage religious tolerance and inclusiveness. The Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs continued working to expand a program titled “Tolerance, Understanding, Coexistence – Oman’s Message of Islam” in 2018, facilitating several exhibitions and events in Europe.
International and Regional Cooperation: In November, Omani delegations attended both an IMCTC meeting in Riyadh and the League of Arab States meeting on combating terrorism in Cairo. Oman also attended the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit in Riyadh in December, and it continues to participate in the U.S.-GCC Strategic Cooperation Forum. Oman regularly votes in favor of counterterrorism measures in the UN General Assembly, the Arab League, and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.
Overview: The United States and Qatar continued to increase counterterrorism cooperation in 2018, building on progress made after the U.S. Secretary of State and Qatari Foreign Minister signed a counterterrorism Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in July 2017. At the U.S.-Qatar Counterterrorism Dialogue in September 2018, the two governments affirmed their progress implementing the MOU and committed to a set of shared 2019 priorities. 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. Security services capable of monitoring and disrupting terrorist activities have maintained the status quo.
2018 Terrorist Incidents: There were no terrorist attacks reported in Qatar in 2018.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: In 2018, the Qatari government developed new draft AML/CFT legislation. At year’s end, the law awaited final approval by the Council of Ministers and the Amir.
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 counterterrorism 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 counterterrorism MOU and overall counterterrorism 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 counterterrorism training and exercises, including with U.S. agencies. Qatar’s Office of Public Prosecution was active in prosecuting terrorism and terrorism financing cases.
As a result of the counterterrorism MOU signed in 2017, the United States and Qatar continued to increase information sharing, including on terrorist screening information. Aviation security information sharing also increased. MOI authorities cooperated with the Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection, and Transportation Security Agency officials 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 2018. The Departments of Justice, State, and the Treasury, as well as the FBI, led or participated in several capacity-building initiatives involving the MOI, the SSB, the Public Prosecution, the Central Bank, and other Qatari agencies. A Department of Justice Resident Legal Advisor began an assignment in Doha in April, providing technical assistance to Qatar’s counterterrorism efforts. In November, Qatar funded a three-year anti-terrorism training program provided by the Department of State, which will include 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 the Middle East and North Africa Financial Action Task Force (MENAFATF). Qatar continued preparations for the MENAFATF Mutual Evaluation, scheduled to begin in 2021, including holding a mock assessment. Qatar is a member of the Defeat-ISIS Coalition’s Counter-ISIS Finance Group, as well as the Riyadh-based Terrorist Financing Targeting Center.
The Qatari government developed a new draft AML/CFT law in 2018 and sought feedback from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the U.S. government. In May, Qatar domestically designated 28 individuals and entities for their involvement in terrorism. Qatar deepened cooperation with the United States on combating terrorism financing during 2018. Qatar joined the United States and other TFTC countries in coordinated domestic designations of individuals and entities associated with Hizballah and the Taliban.
Qatar took actions in 2018 under the UN Security Council’s ISIL (Da’esh) and al-Qa’ida sanctions regime. Of the three individuals who were brought to trial in 2015 and 2016, one was convicted and has appealed, and two were acquitted. All three were charged again in July 2017, and their cases remained pending at the end of 2018. The Qatari Attorney General appealed the two acquittals. One individual was released from pre-trial detention while the new charges and appeal remained pending. Additionally, a fourth UN-designated financier remained in custody. The Public Prosecution continued to prosecute non-UN-designated persons on terrorism and terrorism financing charges, including a Qatari national who joined ISIS in Syria and was arrested upon his return. In a matter involving 25 persons convicted on terrorism charges in 2017, 23 of whom were also convicted on charges of financing ISIS – the men’s cases remained on appeal before the Court of Cassation. Of these 25, 18 were imprisoned (serving terms ranging from three to 13 years), while the other seven men were convicted in absentia and remain fugitives.
In 2018, 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. Qatar was also a major funder of GCERF and sits on GCERF’s Governing Board of Directors. The Qatar Fund for Development supports GCERF activities by building awareness among community leaders about the impact of violent extremism, sharing information on how to respond to violent extremism, promoting community engagement in events to promote peace, and providing educational initiatives.
International and Regional Cooperation: Qatar is an active counterterrorism 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 Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) activities, but the Gulf dispute that broke out in June 2017 froze most GCC-wide engagements. In November 2018, Qatar committed to providing the new UN Office of Counterterrorism with US $75 million over five years to support a variety of UN priorities, including implementing UNSCR 2396, supporting victims of terrorism, and preventing and countering violent extremism.
Overview: Saudi Arabia continued to maintain a strong counterterrorism relationship with the United States and responded to terrorist threats from violent militant groups, ISIS sympathizers, al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), and Iran-backed Houthi militants based in Yemen. Based on local reporting, Saudi Arabia continued to see a reduction in the number of deaths attributable to terrorist violence as the government actively and effectively improved its counterterrorism readiness. Through a range of counterterrorism initiatives, many in partnership with the U.S. government, Saudi Arabia took tangible steps to strengthen its counterterrorism capabilities in border security, counter terrorist financing, and CVE. Saudi Arabia remained a key member and active participant in the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS and co-leads the Defeat-ISIS Coalition’s Counter-ISIS Finance Group. Saudi Arabia co-chairs the Riyadh-based Terrorist Financing Targeting Center (TFTC) with the United States, an initiative founded in 2017 to increase U.S.-Gulf multilateral collaboration to counter terrorist financing. Senior Saudi government and religious leaders issued strong public statements denouncing violent acts perpetrated by global terrorist organizations.
During 2018, Saudi Arabia faced terrorist threats primarily targeting Saudi security forces. Saudi Arabia participated in forums designed to expand regional CVE efforts and what Saudi Arabia describes as “the radicalization of Islam,” while addressing the challenge of returning FTFs from conflict zones and terrorist propaganda. In 2018, Saudi Arabia continued its recent efforts to promote what it calls “moderate Islam,” though some support for intolerant views in third countries persisted, and some Saudi textbooks continued to include language that promoted discrimination, intolerance, and violence.
2018 Terrorist Incidents: Saudi Arabia continued to experience sporadic lone offender, ISIS-inspired attacks, primarily targeting Saudi security forces. Suspected militants perpetrated violence using homemade and other IEDs and gunfire. Attacks in 2018 included the following:
- On April 19, assailants attacked a police checkpoint in southern Asir province, killing four police officers and injuring four others.
- On May 31, local media and the Ministry of Interior reported that two attackers fatally stabbed a Saudi traffic police officer and engaged in a gunfight with security forces near a National Guard facility in Taif.
- On July 8, three suspected militants killed a Saudi security officer and a Bangladeshi national in a shooting incident at a security checkpoint in Buraidah in Qassim province.
- On August 15, security officials reported that a suspected ISIS sympathizer attempted to detonate an explosive belt in the city of al-Bukayriyah, in Qassim province.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: There were no changes to counterterrorism legislation in 2018. The Saudi government enforced the 2017 Counterterrorism and Counter Terror Financing Law (CT Law), resulting in terrorism-related convictions.
Saudi Arabia’s law enforcement units leveraged collaboration with regional and international partners to disrupt terrorist activities. Human rights organizations have asserted that the CT Law – like its predecessor – restricts freedom of expression and association by establishing an overly broad definition of terrorism that is applied to non-violent offenses, including peaceful political or social activism. In 2018, authorities arrested several women’s activists, scholars, and religious leaders. Authorities continued to defend these arrests as a response to criminal acts that fell under the cover of “terrorism” or vaguely-defined crimes against national security.
Saudi Arabia’s most significant physical border security concern continued to be the cross-border threats from Yemen, including terrorist infiltration, drug trafficking, contraband smuggling, and threats related to the ongoing conflict in Yemen. Saudi Arabian security forces improved their operational effectiveness, focused on surveillance, increased patrols around critical infrastructure, and improved information sharing and interagency coordination to deny terrorists safe haven. The Saudi government closely monitored passenger manifests for inbound and outbound flights, scrutinized visitors’ travel documents, and collected biometric information. The Government of Saudi Arabia maintained INTERPOL channels to monitor travelers at land, air, and maritime borders.
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Saudi Arabia is a member of the Middle East and North Africa Financial Action Task Force (MENAFATF) and its FIU, the Saudi Arabia Financial Investigation Unit, is a member of the Egmont Group. Along with Italy and the United States, Saudi Arabia serves as co-lead of the Defeat-ISIS Coalition’s Counter-ISIS Finance Group.
Saudi Arabia has a strong legal framework to combat and deter terrorism financing, and sought to strengthen this framework in 2018. The FATF’s 2018 review of Saudi Arabia’s Mutual Evaluation Report found Saudi Arabia to have a low or moderate level of effectiveness for seven of the 11 criteria for AML/CFT. In response, Saudi Arabia has committed to improving areas identified as deficient by the FATF through a national action plan. Saudi Arabia continued to make progress to improve its AML/CFT legal framework. Saudi Arabia and the United States co-chaired meetings of the TFTC in 2018. In collaboration with other TFTC member states, Saudi Arabia imposed two rounds of sanctions in 2018 against individuals and entities acting on behalf of or providing support to Hizballah and the Taliban.
Countering Violent Extremism: In 2018, Saudi Arabia employed a multifaceted approach to CVE programming with the goal of maintaining momentum after high-level CVE events in 2017. The stated aim of CVE institutions, including the Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology (or Etidal, in Arabic) and the Ideological Warfare Center, was to promote partnerships between government agencies and non-government stakeholders to address “the root causes of extremism” and dismantle ISIS narratives through offensive cyber campaigns. The Ministry of Interior continued to operate its program to rehabilitate individuals with past “extremist involvement.” While the government portrayed the program as highly successful, it lacked demonstrable metrics for its effectiveness.
Saudi Arabia continued to enact domestic religious sector reforms, including the development of more stringent guidance and approval for Saudi religious personnel traveling overseas to conduct proselytization. As part of what Saudi Arabia describes as its “moderate Islam” initiative, Saudi clerics and religious attachés sent abroad were vetted for observance to principles of tolerance and peaceful co-existence and were forbidden from undertaking proselytization efforts beyond host country Sunni Muslim communities. The Saudi-chartered and -led Muslim World League (MWL), which promotes the Salafist form of Islam practiced in Saudi Arabia, has been involved in the kingdom’s various counter-messaging initiatives globally. The current MWL leadership has presented a significantly more inclusive and less discriminatory message than previous MWL leaders and Saudi religious authorities. Despite this progress, support for intolerant views in third countries persisted.
While Saudi Arabia has supported the continued removal of discriminatory content from public school textbooks and enhancing the capacity of public school teachers to integrate CVE consideration into their instruction, studies from the Anti-Defamation League and the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom still found language that promoted discrimination, intolerance, and violence in textbooks. Though the MWL continued to press a message of moderation internationally, including outreach efforts to Muslim minority communities, Jewish communities in the United States and Europe, and Middle Eastern Christian churches (Egyptian Copts, Lebanese Maronites), senior government officials still expressed views that the type of extremist, intolerant, and violent rhetoric found in Saudi textbooks was “a legacy issue.”
International and Regional Cooperation: Saudi Arabia continued to encourage greater international and regional coordination on counterterrorism issues. Saudi Arabia is an active member of the Gulf Cooperation Council and the Arab League. It is also a founding member of the Riyadh-based Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition. Saudi Arabia is also a member of the GCTF. Throughout the year, Saudi government officials continued to lead high-level meetings on regional security. The government hosted international counterterrorism conferences, including the 16th Advisory Board meeting of the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Center on April 17.
Overview: The government continues to prioritize counterterrorism, and Tunisia cooperated with the United States and other international partners to professionalize its security apparatus. U.S. security assistance to Tunisia grew in 2018 and Tunisia made tangible progress on several of its counterterrorism goals, including enhanced border security, new proposed legislation, asset freezing of terrorist financiers, and implementation of CVE programming. Tunisia also made positive strides in developing its military and civilian security capacity to conduct counterterrorism efforts. Tunisia is currently working on a strategy for the return, trial, and incarceration of captured Tunisian FTFs from battlefields in Iraq, Libya, and Syria. Tunisia is a member of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS and is active in the Coalition’s FTF and Counter-ISIS Finance working groups.
The risk of terrorist activity in Tunisia remained high in 2018, including the potential for terrorist attacks and the infiltration of arms and terrorists from neighboring countries. In 2018, aspiring ISIS affiliate Jund Al Khilafa-Tunisia (JAK-T), al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM)-aligned Uqba bin Nafi’ Battalion, and others conducted primarily small-scale attacks against Tunisian security personnel, including one in July against the Tunisian National Guard that killed six officers. Nonetheless, Tunisian security forces continued to improve their ability to preempt terrorist activities by identifying and dismantling numerous terrorist cells.
2018 Terrorist Incidents: Terrorist organizations remained active in Tunisia, primarily targeting Tunisian security elements. The list below highlights the most significant terrorist incidents of 2018:
- On July 8, armed terrorists ambushed a group of Tunisian National Guard officers in Jendouba near the Tunisia-Algeria border, killing six officers. Two days later, Algerian military forces conducted operations along the border, killing three terrorists and arresting three others suspected of involvement in the July 8 ambush.
- On October 29, a 30-year-old woman affiliated with ISIS detonated a suicide IED near several police officers on Habib Bourguiba Avenue in central Tunis. The explosion killed the terrorist and injured 20 police officers and six civilians.
- On December 15, 12 terrorists affiliated with JAK-T stole approximately US $110,000 from a local bank in Kasserine before killing a Tunisian civilian in his home. The group targeted the individual for being a relative of a Tunisian soldier whom terrorists killed in 2016.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: Tunisia pursued several counterterrorism legislative initiatives toward the end of 2018. On November 23, the Ministerial Council announced the need to conduct further review of the draft state of emergency law’s provisions on civil liberty guarantees and judicial controls. Under consideration since 2014, the draft law remains controversial because of the power it would provide the Ministry of Interior to administer house arrests and curfews, limit public meetings, monitor media, and inspect businesses without prior judicial permission. Following the October suicide bombing in Tunis, a parliamentary committee reexamined a draft law on the protection of security forces in an effort to expedite its completion. The draft law has been stalled for more than two years because of its controversial language, which critics say lacks explicit civil liberty protections. Parliament requested that the government revise the language in the current draft before it considers the bill for ratification.
The 2015 Countering Terrorism and Money Laundering Law is currently under review by a parliamentary plenary session for possible amendments. These amendments include lifting immunity on anyone involved in investigations related to terrorism or money laundering crimes; establishing legal and procedural frameworks to implement UNSCRs related to prohibiting the proliferation and financing of WMD; adding a juvenile court to the CT Judicial Pole; and increasing penalties for money laundering crimes and broadening the crime’s definition. Two of the proposed amendments, Articles 107 and 108, have prompted criticism by lawyers who argue that attorney-client confidentiality would be threatened by regulations requiring lawyers to report clients suspected of terrorist activities.
The Government of Tunisia’s counterterrorism efforts demonstrated sustained momentum in 2018, with successful weapons seizures, arrests, and operations against armed groups throughout the country. Significant law enforcement actions and arrests included the following:
- On January 24, a National Guard unit conducted a security operation in Kasserine, killing one terrorist and wounding several others. The operation is credited with dismantling a cell providing logistical support to aspiring ISIS affiliate JAK-T.
- On June 4, the Counterterrorism Investigative Brigade of the Aouina National Guard arrested five people ages 17 to 21 who, after interrogation, confessed their intention to join JAK-T.
- On November 13, the National Terrorist Crimes Investigation Unit (UNECT) conducted counterterrorism raids in Raoued and Tunis, dismantling 40 active terrorist cells. In Raoued, UNECT seized a laboratory equipped to produce explosive materials and toxic gases.
- On December 5, a counterterrorism special unit raided a house and arrested a suspected terrorist in Sidi Bouzid. The unit seized many weapons and dismantled a terrorist cell that had been planning attacks against security personnel.
Tunisia maintained its focus on border security in 2018, coordinating with international donors through the G7+7 Border Security sub-committee to request and implement training and equipment for its border forces. Tunisia continued to receive support from Germany and the United States to complete installation of electronic surveillance equipment along its border with Libya. It also received maritime border training from Italy and is implementing a comprehensive border police program funded by the EU and organized by the International Center for Migration Policy Development. Tunisia continued to prioritize the safeguarding of tourist zones in 2018. As a result of sustained collaboration and cooperation among security forces, international partners, and the tourism industry to enact preventative measures throughout the country, the last attack against tourists in Tunisia was in June 2015.
Tunisian security personnel continued to participate in the Department of State’s expanded Antiterrorism Assistance (ATA) program and additional training funded through the State Department’s Counterterrorism Partnership Fund. This year’s ATA programming included interoperability and sustainment training for members of the National Police, the National Guard, Intervention Units, the Presidential Guard, and Civil Protection. The ATA program expanded outside of Tunis in 2018 to include courses in Kairouan, Medenine, Nabeul, and Sousse governorates.
In close collaboration with the Ministry of Interior, the Department of State is implementing a new police academy modernization project, which includes curriculum development. U.S. government programs also provided the Ministries of Interior and Justice with armored and non-armored vehicles, surveillance cameras, and other equipment to enhance internal and border security. The Tunisian armed forces consider counterterrorism and border security their principal mission, and have successfully employed U.S.-funded patrol craft, vehicles, weapons, and training in border security and counterterrorism operations.
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Tunisia is a member of the Middle East and North Africa Financial Action Task Force (MENAFATF) and the country’s FIU, the Tunisian Financial Analysis Committee, is a member of the Egmont Group. In 2017, FATF categorized Tunisia as having strategic AML/CFT deficiencies. Tunisia developed an action plan to correct these deficiencies. In line with the new action plan, the National Counter-Terrorism Committee (CNLCT) published its first National List of Individuals, Organizations and Entities Related to Terrorist Crimes in November. This list included the names of 23 supporters of terrorism whose assets the Government of Tunisia froze. Some of those listed have been sentenced by the courts in absentia, while others were imprisoned. Most of the accused belong to terrorist organizations such as Ansar Sharia, ISIS, JAK-T, and Katibat Uqba bin Nafi’. CNLCT President Mokhtar Ben Nasr announced that a second list would be published in the Official Gazette of the Republic of Tunisia by the end of 2018, with subsequent lists to be published periodically.
Countering Violent Extremism: In October, CNLCT published the Tunisian National Counterterrorism Strategy. The strategy contains four main pillars (prevention, protection, prosecution, and response) and collectively contains 59 targeted measures, 18 of which are dedicated solely to CVE. CNLCT approaches CVE comprehensively, working with the Ministries of Education, Culture, Communication, and Religion, as well as with Tunisian civil society organizations and international partners to implement both broad counter-messaging campaigns and targeted CVE programming for at-risk populations such as youth and prison inmates. Tunisia is a founding member of the Strong Cities Network. Tunisia also made a concerted effort to improve socioeconomic conditions in the country through economic development and education programs to address conditions that terrorists have exploited for recruitment.
International and Regional Cooperation: Tunisia participates in multinational and regional efforts to counter terrorism, such as those at the UN, the Arab League, the GCTF, and the AU. Tunisia hosted a GCTF meeting on returning families of FTFs in February 2018. Tunisia is a major non-NATO ally and a member of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS. It is a founding member of the GCTFinspired International Institute for Justice and the Rule of Law (IIJ), and it participated in numerous IIJ trainings and workshops focused on improving criminal justice actors’ capacity to prevent and address terrorism-related crimes.
Tunisia is an active member of the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership (TSCTP), a U.S. multi-year interagency regional program aimed at building the capacity of governments in the Maghreb and Sahel to confront terrorist threats. Tunisia is also part of the Security Governance Initiative. Tunisian authorities continued their coordination on border security with Algerian counterparts.
Overview: The United Arab Emirates (UAE) government continued to prosecute numerous individuals for terrorism-related offenses in 2018. In line with previous years, the UAE government continued its collaboration with U.S. law enforcement on counterterrorism cases; its membership in the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS; and its support for counter messaging and CVE platforms, such as the Sawab and Hedayah Centers, respectively. The Government of 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. 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 counterterrorism capabilities.
The UAE continued to deploy forces in Yemen to counter al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and ISIS, and to support local forces in counterterrorism operations.
2018 Terrorist Incidents: There were no terrorist attacks reported in the UAE in 2018.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: In 2018, the UAE continued to prosecute numerous individuals in terrorism-related cases using existing legislation. The UAE updated its legal framework to strengthen sentences for individuals convicted of cybercrime that supported terrorist organizations and unlawful entities. International human rights NGOs and activists have asserted the UAE uses its counterterrorism and cybercrime laws as cover to pursue cases against peaceful political dissidents and activists.
The State Security Directorate (SSD) in Abu Dhabi and Dubai State Security (DSS) remained primarily responsible for counterterrorism law enforcement efforts. Local, emirate-level police forces, especially Abu Dhabi Police and Dubai Police, were frequently 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 numerous new terrorism-related cases in 2018 and retried many 2017 terrorism-related cases. 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 the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), to improve its border security posture. Law enforcement information-sharing between the Abu Dhabi Police’s Criminal Investigations Division and DHS Homeland Security Investigations helped counter transnational criminal organizations and terrorist groups. UAE points 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 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 Gulf Cooperation Council watchlists were incorporated into the UAE’s internal watchlist.
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: The UAE is a member of the Middle East and North Africa Financial Action Task Force (MENAFATF) and the UAE’s FIU, the Anti-Money Laundering and Suspicious Cases Unit, is a member of the Egmont Group. The UAE also participates in the Defeat-ISIS Coalition’s Counter-ISIS Finance Group and the Riyadh-based Terrorist Financing Targeting Center (TFTC). The UAE remained a regional and global financial and transportation hub for terrorist organizations to send and receive financial support. Operational capability constraints and political considerations sometimes prevented the government from immediately freezing and confiscating terrorist assets absent multilateral assistance. The UAE requires financial institutions and designated non-financial businesses and professions to review and implement the UN Security Council ISIL (Da’esh) and al-Qa’ida sanctions regime on a continual basis.
Except for free trade zones (FTZs) specifically established for financial activities, which were well regulated, the UAE’s numerous FTZs varied in their compliance with and supervision of AML/CFT international best practices. Exploitation by illicit actors of money transmitters, including licensed exchange houses, hawalas, and trading firms acting as money transmitters, remained a significant concern.
The UAE continued its efforts to enhance its regulatory measures to strengthen its domestic AML/CFT regime and was increasingly willing and able to implement its laws and regulations. In May, the United States and the UAE jointly took action to disrupt an extensive currency exchange network in Iran and the UAE that financed the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force. The UAE also announced the designation of members of Hizballah’s Shura Council, the primary decision-making body of Hizballah, alongside the United States and other TFTC members.
In October, the UAE issued Federal Law No. 20 of 2018 on Facing AML/CFT and Illegal Organizations. The law mandates abiding by any decisions and sanctions issued by the UNSC. It also includes regulation of holding and declaring virtual and digital currencies. The UAE introduced in the law the obligations of Designated Non-Financial Business and Professions in addition to financial institutions, which are required to put in place adequate systems and controls to assess their risk exposure to financing of terrorism. It empowers law enforcement with the authority to conduct undercover operations.
Countering Violent Extremism: The UAE government continued to play a leadership role in global efforts to counter terrorist radicalization and recruitment. 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 annual Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies and the Muslim Council of Elders. 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 Ministry of Tolerance has been active in promoting messages of tolerance and coexistence through the introduction of several initiatives, such as the Communities Forum, the International Tolerance Symposium, the National Festival of Tolerance, and the UAE Tolerance and Peaceful Coexistence Association. In Dubai, CVE was a central theme of the World Tolerance Summit. Additionally, in November 2018, the Ministry of Tolerance and the Ministry of Education launched a joint project to promote tolerance across public and private schools and to plan extra-curricular student activities to encourage acceptance and respect for others. The Ministry of Interior also organized the March UAE International Conference on National Security and Elimination of Risks, “Tolerance, Moderation and Dialogue in Facing Extremism.” The Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies has hosted the fifth annual forum in Abu Dhabi titled “Virtue: An Opportunity for Global Peace,” gathering 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.
International and Regional Cooperation: The UAE was a vocal and active participant in counterterrorism efforts at both the regional and international levels. The UAE is a member of the GCTF and hosted a workshop on monitoring, measuring, and evaluating CVE policies, programs, and activities. It also continued to play a role in global counterterrorism efforts through its training of Somali forces and its deployment in Yemen, to counter terrorist organizations such as al-Shabaab, AQAP, and ISIS-Yemen.
Overview: Throughout 2018, al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), ISIS-Yemen, Hizballah, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force (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, backed by a Saudi-led coalition, and the Iran-backed Houthi forces. Additionally, IRGC-QF has exploited the conflict to expand its influence in Yemen. UN and other reporting has highlighted the growing 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 United Arab Emirates (UAE). In Yemen, Houthi attacks enabled by U.S.-designated Iranian entities or proxies targeted military and civilian sites, primarily associated with Republic of Yemen Government (ROYG) and Saudi-led coalition members. Media reports suggest that other FTOs, such as Hizballah, may also be supporting the Houthis. The Saudi-led coalition continued its air campaign to restore the legitimacy of the ROYG, which it started in March 2015. The ROYG, in partnership with the Saudi-led coalition, controlled the majority of Yemeni territory at the end of 2018, including the population centers of Aden, Al Ghaydah, Mukalla, and Ta’izz. Houthi forces controlled the capital of Sana’a and surrounding northwest highlands, and largely controlled the port city of Hudaydah, among other areas. AQAP retained a significant area of influence inside Yemen, though the terrorist group suffered setbacks caused by counterterrorism pressure.
The ROYG cooperated closely with the U.S. government on counterterrorism efforts. However, because of the instability and violence in Yemen, and because of its own degraded capabilities, the ROYG cannot effectively enforce counterterrorism measures. A large security vacuum persists, which gives AQAP and ISIS-Yemen more room to operate. Counterterrorism gains in 2018 continued to remove key leaders and complicate AQAP’s freedom of movement, but AQAP and ISIS-Yemen continued to carry out terrorist attacks throughout the country, including in government-held territory. UAE-backed Yemeni forces continued to play a significant role in counterterrorism efforts.
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.
2018 Terrorist Incidents: AQAP and ISIS-Yemen terrorists carried out hundreds of attacks throughout Yemen in 2018. Methods included suicide bombers, VBIEDs, ambushes, armed clashes, kidnappings, and targeted assassinations. The following list details a small fraction of the incidents that occurred:
- On February 24, suspected ISIS terrorists and car suicide bombers targeted the headquarters of a Yemeni counterterrorism unit in Aden, killing at least 14 people and wounding more than 40 others.
- On June 14, AQAP conducted a complex attack targeting UAE-backed forces in al-Wada’a district in Abyan governorate.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: Yemen made no significant changes to its counterterrorism legal framework or to its law enforcement and border security procedures in 2018. Yemen does not have comprehensive counterterrorism legislation and no progress was made owing to the state of unrest and because most of Yemen’s government remained in exile until November, at which point the Prime Minister directed most of the country’s ministers to move to the ROYG’s temporary capital of Aden. Owing to a lack of resources and organization, police forces throughout the country struggle to exert authority.
Draft counterterrorism legislation has been pending in the parliament since 2008. Before the political instability in the capital, the draft was under review by the three parliamentary subcommittees responsible for counterterrorism law issues (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 UNSCR 2178, relating to countering foreign terrorists. There are limited commercial flights operating out of airports in Yemen, and the government did not have the capacity or resources to implement UNSCR 2309 mandates on aviation security.
Before March 2015, the National Security Agency and President’s Office drafted a National Counterterrorism Strategy. A ministerial committee reviewed the draft but was unable to finalize its task because of developments in the country. Thus, Yemen’s National Counterterrorism Strategy had not been officially adopted or implemented by the end of 2018.
Yemen employs the U.S.-provided PISCES in an effort 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 because of a lack of capacity. The central southern coast remains highly vulnerable to maritime smuggling of fighters, weapons, materials, and goods used to support AQAP and ISIS-Yemen. During 2018, the United States planned multiple training courses for more than 140 land border and coast guard personnel. These courses, funded by the Department of State’s Export Control and Related Border Security program, provided hands-on training in Saudi Arabia and Seychelles to conduct illicit weapons interdiction operations at sea and in port, focusing on conventional weapons, explosives, ammunition, man-portable air-defense systems (known as MANPADS, or MPADS), ballistic missile components, and WMD materials. U.S. partners provided training and technical assistance in several counterterrorism-related areas, although the conflict hampered in-country efforts in 2018.
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: There were no significant changes in 2018. Yemen is a member of the Middle East and North Africa Financial Action Task Force (MENAFATF). 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.
Countering Violent Extremism: There were no significant changes in 2018.
International and Regional Cooperation: The ROYG continued to cooperate with and be advised by the Gulf Cooperation Council, the United States, and other donor countries as it concentrated on working toward a peaceful solution to the conflict. Despite the challenges, the ROYG remained a dependable international partner as it worked to reestablish the rule of law within the territory it holds. Yemen, with the United States and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, participates in the Yemen Security Working Group, which includes high-level 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 April 2018, Yemen Coast Guard members participated in a four-week training held in the Republic of Seychelles and delivered by the UNODC Maritime Crime Program. Yemen also belongs to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the Arab League.
Source: U.S. State Department.