Top News: At Least Eight Killed as Gunmen Attack Tunisian Parliament and Museum

Gunmen opened fire on Tunisia’s parliament building and an adjacent museum on Wednesday, killing at least eight and wounding six people including foreign tourists. The gunman also took hostage an unknown number of visitors in the nearby museum. Security forces surrounded at least two militants in the Bardo museum in central Tunis, often packed with foreigners. The situation is ongoing and Tunisian security forces are working to free all hostages and clear the area. Among the dead are seven foreigners and one Tunisian. It is unclear who the attackers are and if they are affiliated to any of the extremist groups Tunisia has been battling during its democratic transition. Previously on Tuesday, the Tunisian tourism minister told the press that Tunisia is entirely safe for visitors and denied reports of terrorism related risks. [ReutersAPL’Economiste MaghrebinANSAmed (French), Washington Post, 3/18/2015]



Egypt to require pre-obtained visas for foreigners of any nationality
Egypt is tightening rules for visas by requiring individual visitors to obtain them at embassies instead of on arrival at Egyptian airports, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Tuesday. “The system remains unchanged for tourist groups which can obtain visas at airports, but individuals have to get a prior visa from embassies,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Badr Abdel Atty said. “This is an act of state sovereignty,” Abdel Atty told Ahram Online. “Every country has the right to protect its borders.” According to Reuters, security sources said one of the reasons for the change in visa rules was to put stronger controls on visits by Western human rights activists who have been highly critical of Egypt’s tough crackdown on Islamists and liberal activists. The same decision was taken in September 2011 but the government suspended it after three days due to a public outcry and accusations that it will be a big blow to Egypt’s tourism industry. The changes will take effect on May 15. [Ahram Online, DNE, AP, Egypt Independent, Reuters, Mada Masr, 3/17/2015]

Egypt Foreign Minister calls for international ‘commitment’ against ISIS
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry has called for international “commitment” to combat the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) in Libya. In an interview on Monday with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, Shoukry said the threat to Egypt from ISIS in Libya was substantial. “I think we have to be true to our commitments as an international community in this fight.” Amanpour asked whether Cairo would definitely implement the new capital city project recently announced. “It certainly will,” Shoukry replied, describing it as a national project. Shoukry said, “It is the hope of the government that it will be implemented within a very short time frame, at least the nucleus of the new capital city.” Finally, Amanpour asked Shoukry to expand on a recent quote from Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi rejecting western perceptions of the democratic process in Egypt. Shoukry said Egyptians are the ones who can evaluate the progress of democracy in their own country. “The current democratic process is forged by the will of the Egyptian people. They determine to what extent, and they are the ones who judge the application of democratic principles.” [Ahram Online, 3/17/2015]

Parliamentary election procedures to begin from scratch says State Council
A Tuesday court decision has reset the procedural timetable for the expected parliamentary elections and instructed the High Electoral Commission (HEC) to start from scratch. Following the government’s decision to suspend the elections, the State Council-affiliated Administrative Court cancelled all measures undertaken by the HEC ahead of the elections, including the elections date starting March 21. According to state-run MENA, the court decision obligates the HEC to refund the EGP 3,000 insurance fees paid by candidates who registered for the elections and update the voter database. Official spokesperson Omar Marwan called on citizens to revise changed addresses or legal statuses regarding the right to vote. [DNE, 3/18/2015]

Ministry of Social Solidarity dissolves 380 NGOs in 2015
Egypt’s Social Solidarity Minister ordered on Wednesday the dissolution of ninety-nine nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in eight governorates in implementation of a court ban on the Muslim Brotherhood. An urgent matters court banned the Brotherhood in September 2013 and established a committee to manage its funds. Social Solidarity Minister Ghada Wali said that the dissolution order was issued based on decisions made by the committee. She added that the assets of the dissolved NGOs would be allocated to a fund for NGOs and civil society organizations. Wali has already dissolved 169 NGOs on February 23 and 112 more on March 1 in implementation of the court ruling, bringing the number of NGOs dissolved in 2015 so far to 380. [Aswat Masriya, 3/18/2015]

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Clash with ISIS militants kills ten
Fighting between Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) militants and forces loyal to the Tripoli-based government has killed ten troops near the town of Nofaliya. The pro-government force was comprised of regular military and militia members claiming allegiance to the Tripoli government. The fighting was near Libya’s main oil terminal on the Mediterranean and is the latest attack in a campaign by ISIS militants targeting the oil facilities. [AP, 3/18/2015]

Misrata announces high state of alert and nighttime curfew
The city of Misrata has announced a nighttime curfew in an attempt to improve security in the city. The curfew will be in effect from midnight to seven in the morning. The city council also announced a series of emergency security measures including the rising of the security alert in the city to high. The measures include strict controls on cars without number plates or with tinted windscreens and the formation of a committee to conduct a census of migrants in the city. [Libya Herald, 3/17/2015]

At least eight killed as gunmen attack Tunisian parliament and museum
Gunmen opened fire on Tunisia’s parliament building and an adjacent museum on Wednesday, killing at least eight and wounding six people including foreign tourists. The gunman also took hostage an unknown number of visitors in the nearby museum. Security forces surrounded at least two militants in the Bardo museum in central Tunis, often packed with foreigners. The situation is ongoing and Tunisian security forces are working to free all hostages and clear the area. Among the dead are seven foreigners and one Tunisian. It is unclear who the attackers are and if they are affiliated to any of the extremist groups Tunisia has been battling during its democratic transition. Previously on Tuesday, the Tunisian tourism minister told the press that Tunisia is entirely safe for visitors and denied reports of terrorism related risks. [Reuters, AP, L’Economiste Maghrebin, ANSAmed (French), Washington Post, 3/18/2015]

Tunisia dismantles four terrorist cells in Kairouan
The of interior ministry announced the arrest of twenty-two militants working in four alleged terrorist cells recruiting young Tunisians to fight in Libya. The ministry also announced an additional ten militants arrested while attempting to cross into Libya to join militant groups. Security forces added that they seized around ten thousand dinars and 200 euros in cash, iPads, memory cards, and mobile phones. The four cells discovered operating in Kairouan were responsible for recruiting young Tunisians, with a focus on targeting students to train and join militants in Libya. [Tunisia Live, 3/17/2015]

Prime Minister Essid addresses the nation on economic and social challenges
Prime Minister Habib Essid addressed the nation on the difficult economic, social, and security situations facing the country in a nationally televised speech Tuesday. During his speech, he introduced solutions for a national rescue plan and called for the mobilization of all Tunisians to make the economic transition a success. Essid also stated that Tunisia’s security remains precarious and terrorist threats persist. He said that to improve security Tunisia needs improved coordination and collaboration between the national army and internal security forces and updated equipment. As for the economy, he said that a development model based on sectors with considerable added value, providing jobs for university graduates with the help of investment in digital and green economies. [Tunisia Live, 3/17/2015]


Syria claims shooting down of US drone over Latakia
The Syrian military says it has shot down a US drone near the city of Latakia. US officials have said they lost contact with a drone but that it is unclear if it was shot down. If confirmed it would be the first time Syrian forces have attacked a US aircraft since the start of coalition strikes against Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL). The state-run SANAnews agency described the unmanned surveillance plane as “hostile”, without giving further details. The Pentagon said it was looking into the incident.[BBC, Al-Arabiya, NY Times, AP, 3/18/2015]

Three Iraqis dead in explosion near Kuwaiti border
Three Iraqis were killed on Wednesday when a booby-trapped truck exploded in Iraq near the border with Kuwait. A local Iraqi official stated that five other people were wounded in the explosion at a garage near the main road about 7.5 miles north of the Safwan border crossing with Kuwait. Police sources in Iraq said the victims were civilians who died in an explosion from a truck trailer parked in a rest area some 6 miles north of the Iraqi port of Umm Qasr. Iraqi authorities have been enforcing heightened security measures at the port, where no large vehicles are allowed in or out, police sources said. [Reuters, AFP, 3/18/2015]

Syrian opposition urges probe into alleged chlorine attack
The Syrian National Coalition (SNC) has called on the UN to send a fact-finding mission to investigate an alleged poison gas attack on Sarmin in Idlib province yesterday. SNC and activists inside Syria say the government carried out a chlorine gas attack on the village, killing six people and leaving dozens more struggling to breathe. Syrian authorities denied the allegations. In a statement released late Tuesday, SNC vice president Hisham Marwa called for an on-site UN investigation as soon as possible. He also demanded the Security Council enforce a recent resolution that condemns the use of toxic chemicals such as chlorine in Syria and threatens military action in case of violations. “The UN Security Council must take all necessary measures that ensure the enforcement of the resolution,” Marwa said. [AP, 3/18/2015]

US envoy reassures Turkey on Assad
The United States still wants a negotiated political settlement in Syria that excludes President Bashar al-Assad, and its position on the Syrian leader has not changed, US envoy General John Allen told Turkish officials Tuesday. The statement comes after Secretary of State John Kerry said on Sunday the United States would have to negotiate with Assad, though the State Department later said he was not specifically referring to the Syrian leader and that Washington would never bargain with him. Kerry’s comments drew condemnation in Turkey with Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. “General Allen reiterated that the United States’ position on Assad has not changed… [and] The United States believes that he has lost all legitimacy to govern, that conditions in Syria under his rule have led to the rise of ISIS,” the US embassy in Ankara said in a statement. [AFP, Reuters, 3/18/2015]

The United States concerned if heavy Iranian arms used in Iraq
The United States is concerned about how heavy Iranian weaponry might be used inside Iraq in its latest criticism of Iran’s involvement in the neighboring country. US officials has declined to comment on specific Iranian weaponry after the New York Times reported it might include Fajr-5 artillery rockets and Fateh-110 missiles but added that the potential use of heavy Iranian weaponry would raise questions about the risk of civilian casualties. The United States has also warned that civilian casualties or other abuses by Iraqi forces and Shia militia against Sunni Iraqis could inflame sectarian tensions. In related news, a new report from Human Rights Watch states that Iraqi troops and Shia militia looted and burned homes and destroyed villages after breaking ISIS’s months-long siege of the Turkmen town of +Irak/@34.6646644,44.6126397,12z/data=!4m2!3m1!1s0x1555bae26653c5db:0xb7dd545cd9afc6dc”>Amerli in Salahudin province last August. [Al-Arabiya, Reuters, 3/18/2015]


Pentagon loses $500 million of weapons in Yemen
The Pentagon is unable to account for more than $500 million in US military aid given to Yemen. With Yemen in turmoil and its government splintering, the Defense Department has lost its ability to monitor the whereabouts of small arms, ammunition, night-vision goggles, patrol boats, vehicles and other supplies donated by the United States. Pentagon officials have said that they have little information to go on and that there is little they can do at this point to prevent the weapons and gear from falling into the wrong hands. [Washington Post, 3/17/2015]

Prominent Yemeni journalist assassinated
On the fourth anniversary of the Day of Dignity Massacre, assailants on a motorbike on Wednesday shot dead one of Yemen’s top journalists, Abdul Kareem al-Khaiwani, who was also an activist close to the country’s Houthis. The killing ends a relative lull in bombing and shooting attacks in the capital since the Houthis ousted the government in January. There was no immediate claim of responsibility. Khaiwani’s editorials were once the scourge of Yemen’s veteran autocrat, former President Ali Abdullah Saleh. He accused Saleh of grooming his son to succeed him. [Reuters, SABA, 3/18/2015]

Released Yemeni cabinet members reinstated
Members of Yemen’s cabinet who were released by Houthi rebels on Monday will resume their ministerial duties from the southern port city of Aden, President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi has said. Yemen’s newly released Prime Minister Khaled Bahah may resume his duties soon if efforts to persuade him to retract his resignation succeed, a presidential aide said. Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, presidential adviser Mohammed Marem said President Hadi wants Prime Minister Bahah to withdraw his resignation ahead of the reconciliation talks in Riyadh, expected to start later this month. The Houthis and other major political parties have refused participation in these talks. [Asharq Al-Awsat, 3/18/2015]

President Hadi plans on visiting Egypt
Egypt’s president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi invited President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi to attend the next Arab League meeting March 28-29. President Hadi says that he has agreed to attend the league’s meeting, which celebrates its seventieth anniversary this year. If President Hadi attends, this will be the first time he has left the country since fleeing Sana’a earlier last month. [Al Masdar, 3/18/2015]

Woman receives seventy lashes in Saudi Arabia for insulting a man
A 32-year-old woman in Saudi Arabia was given seventy lashes for allegedly insulting a man on the private messaging service WhatsApp. The unnamed woman will also be forced to pay about $5,300 for the offense, which the man in the complaint said damaged his reputation. The woman did admit to insulting the man, but refuted the guilty verdict. Saudi Arabia’s anti-cybercrime law says anyone convicted of “defamation and infliction of damage upon others” by using technological devices might have to face imprisonment for up to a year and a fine not exceeding 500,000 Saudi riyals ($132,966). [CBS, Gulf News, 3/18/2015]


Libyan government planning oil export program to weaken rival
Libya’s internationally recognized government asked companies buying oil from ports under its control to deal with its administration, a move seen as an effort to weaken its rival Islamist-backed cabinet. Any sales of the country’s oil should now be arranged through a state firm based in Benghazi in order to prevent fraud. The chairman of the National Oil Corporation, appointed by the elected government, said his management team is drafting a loading program that is separate from the one implemented so far, which was designed by another management team of the state-run company based in the capital, Tripoli. [Bloomberg, Reuters, 3/17/2015]

Tunisia to start economic rescue plan, sees 7 percent growth
Tunisia’s new government announced it would launch an emergency economic plan that includes reforms in subsidies and social funds to revive growth to a projected 7 percent in the next five years. A draft document summing up the five-year plan is expected to be released for a general consultation by the end of March. The draft reform vies to push through structural changes aimed at economic recovery and social welfare by promoting efficiency, justice, and transparency. [Reuters, ANSAmed, 3/18/2015]

Algeria seeks more oil-exporter cooperation on price drop
According to Algeria’s energy minister, the country is seeking more cooperation among oil exporting countries to help counter the sharp fall in global crude prices. In December, Algeria called for an OPEC production cut in response to a more than 50 percent collapse in the price of petroleum and has since said it was in talks with OPEC and non-OPEC producers to trim the market surplus. [Reuters, 3/17/2015]

Morocco’s January-February trade deficit falls by 37.2 percent
According to the foreign exchange regulator, Morocco’s trade deficit fell by 37.2 percent year on year in the first two months of the year due to lower energy imports as oil prices fell. The trade gap was 20.5 billion dirhams ($2.0 billion), down from 32.64 billion dirhams at the end of February 2014. [Reuters, 3/17/2015]