Top News: Turkey identifies the Syrian bomber behind the Istanbul blast, detains one suspect

Turkish authorities identified the bomber in the January 12 attack in Istanbul’s Sultanahmet as a Syrian born in 1988, who had recently entered Turkey. Turkish media, including newspapers close to the government, identified him as Nabil Fadli, and said he was born in Saudi Arabia. Turkish Interior Minister Efkan Ala said the suicide bomber had registered with Turkish immigration authorities but wasn’t on any Turkish or international watch lists for ISIS militants. One person has been detained over suspected connections to the attack, Ala has announced. Turkish media reports said police raided a home in an affluent neighborhood of Istanbul, detaining one woman suspected of having links to ISIS, although it was not clear if she was the suspect Ala was referring to. [NYT, Daily Sabah, Reuters, 1/13/2016]



Parliament forms 19 committees, selects committee heads, to review legislation
Egypt’s new parliament issued Tuesday a decision to form 19 internal committee and the heads and deputy heads of those committees for temporary appointment since their elections will follow passing the code of conduct. The parliament said in a statement published online that the eldest MPs will be appointed presidents of the committees, and the youngest MPs will be appointed their deputies. A special committee headed by independent MP and former chairman of the Higher Council for Judges Sirri Siam will review laws deemed of utmost importance, including the terror and protest laws. Renowned lawyer Bahaa Abu-Shuqa will head the Constitutional and Legislative Committee. Abu-Shuqa is the oldest MP and thus was the parliament speaker on Sunday until Ali Abdel-Al was elected. Parliamentarian Ali al-Moselhy, a former member of the defunct National Democratic Party and ex-Minister of Social Solidarity under Mubarak, will head the Economics Committee. Controversial lawyer and Zamalek club chairman Mortada Mansour will head the Human Rights Committee. Mansour is renowned for filing lawsuits against his critics. The 19 committees will meet to discuss 341 presidential decrees passed since the removal of former president Mohamed Morsi from office in July 2013. [DNE, Ahram Online, 1/13/2016]

Egypt’s police arrest 2 Facebook admins for ‘calling for protests on Jan 25 anniversary’
Egypt’s security forces arrested two Facebook administrators who are allegedly responsible for 47 pages on the social media website that “incite against the country’s institutions” and that “call for protests on the January 25 2011 anniversary,” state news agency MENA reported Wednesday. The two arrested are a 25-year-old man from Giza, and a 21-year-old woman from Upper Egypt’s Minya governorate. Both defendants also allegedly admitted to being members of the banned Muslim Brotherhood group. Their laptops and mobile phones, used to access the Facebook pages, were seized. The pair are expected to be questioned by the prosecution, charged, and referred to court. [Ahram Online, 1/13/2016]

Egypt fact finding committee refutes top auditor’s claims that state bodies embezzled EGP600 billion
A presidential investigative committee accused head of the Central Auditing Authority (CAA) Hisham Geneina on Tuesday of misrepresenting and manipulating facts about state corruption. President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi ordered the committee to look into statements made by Geneina, the head of the body responsible for overseeing state funds and expenditure and revealing financial corruption. In an interview, Geneina claimed corruption within official institutions cost Egypt over EGP600 billion in 2015 alone. The committee accused Geneina of overstating the level of corruption in state institutions and asserted he had miscalculated how much it cost the nation. Geneina stood his ground following the committee’s accusation, insisting that he can support all his statements with evidence. The newly elected parliament is also expected to open an investigation into Geneina’s statements next week. On Tuesday night, a large number of MPs affiliated with a pro-government bloc In Support of Egypt requested Parliament Speaker Ali Abdel-Al to entrust a parliamentary fact-finding committee with the investigation into Geneina’s statement. [Ahram Online, Aswat Masriya, Mada Masr, 1/13/2016]

Turkish court releases 12 Egyptians arrested on charges of joining ISIS
Egypt’s Foreign Ministry announced Tuesday the release of 12 Egyptians arrested in Turkey on charges of joining the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) militant group. The 12 Egyptians had been arrested in Adana province, according to Egypt’s consul in Istanbul Bassam Rady, who confirmed on Monday that the Turkish authorities had arrested them for allegedly joining ISIS. Three minors were among those arrested, according to the Egyptian Foreign Ministry statement. The Assistant to the Foreign Minister for Consular Affairs and Egyptians Abroad said that the Turkish court decided to release all the Egyptian citizens and refer them to the Office of Foreigners and Immigration to deport them to Egypt. Meanwhile, Egypt condemned ”in the strongest terms” a terrorist bombing that rocked Turkey’s Istanbul, killing 10 people and wounding 15 others in the city’s main tourist hub Sultanahmet. In an official statement, the spokesperson for the Egyptian Foreign Ministry expressed Egypt’s condolences to the Turkish people and the families of the victims of other nationalities. [Ahram Online, 1/12/2016]

For more in-depth Egypt news, please visit EgyptSource


Algeria arrests seven gunmen near southern gas field
The Algerian Defense Ministry says the army has arrested seven armed Libyans in an ambush in southeast Algeria, near the Libyan border and not far from the deadly 2013 attack on a gas installation. The ministry statement said that Algerian security forces arrested the Libyans on Tuesday in Hassi-Kiout, about 60 miles from the Libyan border. The statement did not link the militants with any group, but al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and small pockets of Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) affiliated fighters operate in some parts of Algeria. “Seven terrorists have been arrested and an inquiry is underway to shed light on their identities,” the ministry statement said. [AP, Reuters, 1/12/2016]

Historic Obari castle damaged in renewed Tebu-Tuareg fighting
Renewed fighting between Tuareg and Tebu forces has damaged Obari’s historic fort and plunged most of the town into darkness. The Turco-Italian castle was reported to have been hit by heavy missiles. The fort helps protect the largely Tebu Nimar district while Tuareg forces hold the adjacent Telaquin section of the town. The cause of the fighting is unclear. It broke out while elders from both communities were meeting in Sebha to try and harden the Qatari-sponsored truce of last November. [Libya Herald, 1/12/2016]

UN Libya Envoy says women should have 30 percent of government posts
UN Special Envoy Martin Kobler has called for women to hold 30 percent of the posts in the new Government of National Accord (GNA). The GNA is supposed to be chosen by the nine-member Presidency Council by Saturday and then voted on by the House of Representatives by January 26. Kobler made his call at yesterday’s commencement of a three-day conference in Tunis of women activists and women’s groups from across Libya. The members of the Presidency Council, appointed by the UN-led Libya Dialogue, are all male. [Libya Herald, 1/12/2016]

Popular Front to lead boycott of ceremony marking anniversary of Tunisia’s revolution
A group of Tunisian political parties have announced their decision to boycott the festivities scheduled for Thursday to mark the country’s fifth anniversary of the revolution. Members from the Popular Front, Democratic Current, Al-Chaab Movement, the Voice of Farmers, and a variety of independent political personalities have confirmed that they will not take part in the ceremony. The Popular Front like Al-Massar and the Socialist Leftist Party, have signed a petition which mandates non-participation in the ceremonies. [Tunisia Live, 1/12/2016]


Pentagon considers plan to train fighters in Syria
The Pentagon is weighing a request from Turkish officials to help train and equip Sunni Arab fighters inside Syria as part of an effort to secure Turkey’s southern border, a long-sought goal of the Obama administration, according to US officials.If the proposal moves forward, it would be a significant development in the US role in the area and another effort to train and equip Western-leaning fighters inside of Syria after previous efforts faltered. [WSJ, 1/13/2016]

UN relief official calls for ‘immediate’ end to blockades in Syria
The head of the UN relief efforts for Syria pleaded with all parties on Tuesday to lift their sieges on key towns and let aid agencies deliver food and medical care. “The immediate thing to be done is to lift sieges everywhere,” the humanitarian coordinator for Syria, Yacoub al-Hillo said. Hillo’s comments come a day after he joined a carefully negotiated aid convoy into the besieged town of Madaya. He said he saw severely malnourished people there, especially children, and others who had gone hungry for a long time. He said some people there resembled “skeletons that are now barely moving.” Another convoy is due to go to Madaya on Thursday.[NYT, WSJ, 1/13/2016]

Syrian opposition coordinator says US clearly backtracked over Syria
Opposition coordinator Riad Hijab said the United States has softened its stance on Syria including the future of President Bashar al-Assad to accommodate Russia. Hijab warned that the opposition would face a hard choice on whether to attend peace talks this month. “The Russians and Americans did not cite Assad (during the negotiations) and did not talk about his departure and that is clear backtracking,” he said. On Wednesday, UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura will meet ambassadors from all five permanent members of the UN Security Council in Geneva on Wednesday ahead of the peace talks planned for January 25. In related news, President Obama’s former ambassador to Syria told House lawmakers Tuesday that Russia’s military intervention in the country has set back, not advanced, efforts to reach a diplomatic solution to the five-year-old conflict. The gloomy comments from Robert Ford, who served as Ambassador to Syria from 2011 to 2014, stand in direct opposition to the State Department’s growing optimism that a Syrian peace deal may be in sight. [Reuters, 1/13/2016]

Syria rebels to cede heavy weapons in Homs deal
Syrian rebels in a former opposition stronghold in Homs will relinquish nearly half their heavy weapons as part of a truce with the government, the Homs Provincial Governor Talal Barazi said Wednesday. According to Barazi, “the second phase of the Waer agreement began four days ago and will continue until the beginning of February.” Barazi explained that rebels are expected to hand over “nearly 50 percent of all medium- and heavy-weaponry, like machine guns and mortars,” whereas government forces will open a second crossing point into the neighborhood. Barazi described the implementation of the deal as a “trust-building process.” The deal was reached in December and envisions Waer coming under government control in exchange for the lifting of a devastating three-year siege. In the northwestern province of Latakia Wednesday, regime forces continued to expand their area of control seizing two additional villages near Salma with the aid of Russian air strikes. [AFP, 1/13/2016]

Sunni mosques in east Iraq attacked after ISIS-claimed blasts
At least ten Sunni mosques and dozens of shops in eastern Iraq were attacked on Tuesday, security sources and local officials said, a day after 23 people were killed in two blasts claimed by Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL). Iraqi officials condemned both the mosque attacks as well as Monday’s bombings which ISIS said had targeted Iraqi Shia. Haqqi al-Jabouri, a member of the local council in Diyala province where the Muqdadiya attack took place, said both types of attacks hurt the social fabric of the community. [Al Jazeera, Reuters, 1/13/2016]

For more in-depth Syria news and analysis, please visit SyriaSource.


Fifteen Yemeni civilians killed in Saudi-led airstrike; Coalition spokesman denies reports
The Saudi-led coalition fired an airstrike south of the Yemeni capital of Sana’a that killed at least fifteen civilians, local residents say. A spokesman for the Coalition backing embattled Yemeni President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi called the reports inaccurate, without elaboration. According to UN figures 6000 people have died in since the war began in March 2015, approximately half of them civilians. [Reuters, 1/13/2016]

Fresh army graduates to provide security in Yemen’s South
The Yemeni army inducted hundreds of new army graduates into its ranks on Tuesday. The ceremony, which President Hadi attended, was held at al-Anad Military Base in Southern Yemen. The graduates were reportedly trained by Sudanese military officials. A security official said that many of them will be deployed to Aden, which has been wracked with violence since it was captured by anti-Houthi forces in July 2015. Yesterday, unknown gunmen killed two policemen and an investigator in two separate incidents. Despite recent attacks by the Islamic State and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), Yemeni government officials highlight Houthi “sleeper cells” as primary drivers of instability. Local groups, thought to be connected to illegal smugglers, continue to clash with police and military units over control of Aden’s sea and air ports. [Gulf News, Al-Arabiya, 1/13/2016]

Houthi rocket attacks and coalition strikes continue in Taiz
Katyusha rockets fired by Houthi militants and forces loyal to ousted President Ali Abdullah Saleh in the Taiz village of Hana have killed four civilians, including one infant, on Wednesday. Local residents said that two local resistance fighters were also killed in shelling that targeted their positions in the area. Meanwhile, the Saudi-led coalition intensified its missile strikes targeting Houthi militants and forces loyal to President Saleh in Taiz. The strikes targeted militant positions in Dabab and Masrakh early Wednesday morning. Local residents said that coalition strikes targeted groups of militants hold up in a governmental compound in Hifan. [Al-Masdar, 1/13/2016]


Iraq signs IMF monitoring program, will draw on foreign reserves
Iraq plans to finance its balance of payments deficit by drawing its foreign exchange reserves down to $43 billion in 2016 from $59 billion at the end of October. The deficit is expected to reach $14 billion in 2015 before narrowing to $11 billion in 2016, the government said, as part of a Staff Monitoring Program agreement that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) approved on Tuesday as a precondition for a loan. The agreement, which runs from November 2015 to December 2016, aims to help steady Iraq’s finances. It also paves the way for a possible funding program this year that would include conditions requiring Baghdad to reduce energy price subsidies and reform state-owned enterprises. Iraqi authorities agreed in November to have the IMF monitor their economic policies to help rein in spending and curb the budget deficit. [Reuters, 1/12/2016]

Egypt’s Central Bank Governor sees import rules saving $20 billion in 2016
Egypt’s Central Bank Governor Tarek Amer said rules to curb what he described as unnecessary imports may save about $20 billion this year, helping to ease a foreign currency shortage. “The largest demand for foreign exchange comes from imports, so these measures are a quick fix to improve the balance of payments,” Amer said in an interview. “Egypt has been flooded with cheap, low-quality goods and we are trying to regulate this market.” Authorities have tightened rules to finance the imports of goods deemed non-essential and have asked importers to register their foreign suppliers with the government. “In a matter of a few months, we have succeeded in restoring confidence in the domestic market,” Amer said. [Bloomberg, 1/13/2016]

Saudi government to keep controlling stake if it lists Aramco
Saudi Arabia’s government will keep a controlling interest in state-owned Saudi Aramco if it decides on a share offering of the world’s largest oil firm, Chief Executive Officer Amin Nasser said. Aramco has crude reserves of about 265 billion barrels, over 15 percent of all global oil deposits. If it went public, it could become the first listed company valued at $1 trillion, analysts have estimated. “A range of options are being considered, including the listing in the capital markets of an appropriate percentage of Saudi Aramco shares with the government retaining a controlling interest, as well as the option to list a bundle of downstream businesses and interests,” Nasser said. He cited the government’s privatization initiative and broader economic reforms as the two key drivers behind the move. [Reuters, 1/13/2016]

UAE to see over 10 billion dirhams in revenues from VAT
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is expected to make around Dh10 billion to Dh12 billion in the first year following the implementation of a value added tax (VAT, according to Undersecretary at the Ministry of Finance Younis al-Khouri. “There was a study conducted in 2014 that showed that the [revenues] collected from the implementation of value-added tax for the UAE are between Dh10 billion to Dh12 billion, given that the tax will not be applied on some large industries like education, healthcare, and food staples,” al-Khouri said. He said the VAT is set to be implemented in 2018 and would range between 3 to 5 percent. While GCC countries have yet to finalize their implementation policy, al-Khoury said a tentative plan for implementation has already been approved by GCC leaders. [Gulf News, 1/13/2016]