Top News: United Nations Blacklists Libya’s Ansar al-Sharia

The UN Security Council has blacklisted two branches of the Islamist extremist group Ansar al-Sharia in Libya, which the US government says was behind the fatal attack in 2012 on the US Consulate in Benghazi. Ansar al-Sharia Benghazi and Ansar al-Sharia Derna, both associated with al Qaeda, were added to the al Qaeda sanctions list and will face an arms embargo, global travel ban, and asset freeze. Britain, France and the United States initiated the action. The United States is also considering imposing unilateral sanctions on Libya’s warring militants to pressure them to negotiate. [ReutersLibya Herald, 11/19/2014]



Sisi says pardon for Al Jazeera journalists “being discussed”
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said on Thursday a presidential pardon for two of the three Al Jazeera journalists serving seven-year jail sentences in his country was being considered. “Let us say that this matter is being discussed to solve the issue,” Sisi said in an interview with the France24 network. [Reuters, 11/20/2014]

Egyptian police arrest Brotherhood ‘moderate’ Mohamed Ali Bishr
Egypt on Thursday arrested a leading Muslim Brotherhood member who played a key role in negotiations between his now-banned group and the government. The early morning arrest of Mohammed Ali Bishr from his home in the Nile Delta was linked to a call for demonstrations at the end of the month, according to a security official. The rallies have been called by a hard-line Islamist group called the Salafi Front, and not the Brotherhood. Bishr, who served as a cabinet minister under Mohamed Morsi, has since been transferred to Cairo’s state security for interrogation. The pro-Morsi National Alliance to Support Legitimacy condemned his arrest. The Salafi Front also announced on its Facebook page that security forces raided the homes of several of its leading members nationwide, and made a number of arrests. [Ahram Online, DNE, Egypt Independent, AP, Mada Masr, The Guardian, Reuters, 11/20/2014]

Egypt arrests leading militant figure after return from Syria
Egypt’s security forces arrested Wednesday a leading member of the militant al-Furqan Brigades after his return from Syria, as well as thirty-eight others from five different terrorist cells in al-Gharbiya governorate. An interior ministry statement alleged that Hani Shaheen returned from fighting in Syria with al-Qaeda affiliate Nusra Front to train elements in Egypt on explosives assembly. Egypt’s state television broadcast a video purporting to show Shaheen’s confession. “I traveled to Syria about a year ago,” said a bearded man. “I was trained to use Kalashnikovs and explosives with the Furqan Brigade…in Homs,” a central Syrian city. [Ahram Online, Reuters, 11/20/2014]

Forty-eight arrested on Mohamed Mahmoud anniversary
Police forces arrested forty-eight protesters who took to the streets on Wednesday to commemorate the third anniversary of Mohamed Mahmoud clashes, and transferred them to the Abdeen and Qasr al-Nil police stations in Downtown Cairo. Human rights lawyer Mahienour al-Masry, and three others, were also arrested in Alexandria, and were released several hours later without charges being brought against them. A press conference scheduled to be held at the Journalists Syndicate on Wednesday was cancelled following the arrests. A number of political parties and movements are scheduled to hold a conference on Thursday at al-Dostour party headquarters, to respond to what they described as “random arrests’ campaigns” that took place on Wednesday. [Aswat Masriya, DNE, Mada Masr, 11/20/2014]

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United Nations blacklists Libya’s Ansar al-Sharia
The UN Security Council has blacklisted two branches of the Islamist extremist group Ansar al-Sharia in Libya, which the US government says was behind the fatal attack in 2012 on the US Consulate in Benghazi. Ansar al-Sharia Benghazi and Ansar al-Sharia Derna, both associated with al Qaeda, were added to the al Qaeda sanctions list and will face an arms embargo, global travel ban, and asset freeze. Britain, France and the United States initiated the action. The United States is also considering imposing unilateral sanctions on Libya’s warring militants to pressure them to negotiate. [Reuters, Libya Herald, 11/19/2014]

UN-brokered humanitarian truce in Benghazi falters
Libya’s warring parties in Benghazi agreed to a twelve-hour humanitarian truce Wednesday, but deadly clashes continued throughout the city. The UN-brokered ceasefire, meant to provide “much-needed reprieve,” according to Special Representative Bernardino Leon, began at 7 a.m. on Wednesday and could have been extended by the parties involved. A spokesman for the Libyan National Army said that pro-government forces had been unable to uphold the truce, as it acted in defense in the face of aggression from Ansar al-Sharia and its allies. [Libya Herald, AP, 11/19/2014]

Libyan ministerial delegation in Cairo for help to rebuild state institutions
A delegation of Libyan ministers, led by the deputy prime minister for security affairs in Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni’s cabinet, is in Cairo for meetings with Egyptian officials. One of the primary goals of the visit is to devise a plan for forming a solid security structure, particularly for areas along the Libyan-Egyptian border. Egyptian media reported last month that Egypt had agreed to train Libyan military personnel, though it is unclear how if the plan has been implemented. There have also been unconfirmed reports that Egypt has agreed to set up a Libyan internal security service. [Libya Herald, 11/19/2014]

Tunisia to close border crossings with Libya for its presidential elections
Tunisian authorities say they will close the Ras Jedir and Dhehiba border crossings with neighboring Libya for four days, through Tunisia’s November 23 presidential elections. The borders will be shut for those seeking to enter Tunisia, although it will remain open in the other direction. The precautionary decision was made, as the situation in Libya continues to deteriorate and Tunisia faces increase security threats. Tunisia took the same measure last month during its parliamentary elections. [Libya Monitor (subscription), 11/20/2014]

Tunisia’s prime minister calls for increased oversight on electoral finance
Interim Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa on Wednesday called for additional scrutiny into the public financing of electoral campaigns during a meeting with the president of Tunisia’s Court of Auditors. The prime minister affirmed the Court’s role in monitoring campaign financing and stressed that the recovery of all public funds used during campaigns was in line with requirements of the electoral law. [TAP, 11/19/2014]

VP Biden meets with Morocco’s King Mohammed VI in Fez
US Vice President Joe Biden arrived in Morocco on Wednesday to attend the Global Entrepreneurship Summit held in Marrakech. The vice president later met with King Mohammed VI in Fez where both leaders discussed strategic partnerships and collaborative efforts to maintain peace and security in the region. A statement released by the Vice President’s office confirmed that the meeting also focused on non-military measures to combat the growing threat of violent extremism amongst youths. [Naharnet, 11/20/2014]


Syrian air force escalates bombardment campaign; 1,600 strikes over last month
The Syrian air force launched about 1,592 strikes across the country over the past month, killing at least 396 civilians according to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Since October 20 the Syrian military has targeted areas in the Hama, Deraa, Idlib, Aleppo, and Quneitra provinces as well as the Damascus countryside. Government airstrikes have also hit the eastern Deir Ezzor province, where US-led forces have been bombing ISIS militants. The monitoring group indicated that at least 1,500 people had been injured by barrel bombs dropped from military helicopters and warplanes. [Reuters, 11/19/2014]

United States launches overnight strikes against Nusra Front targets in Idlib
An overnight American-led airstrike struck al-Qaeda militants in northwestern Syria and marked the fourth time the US has targeted the Nusra Front, al-Qaeda’s Syrian branch, as part of its broader campaign against ISIS. A statement released by the US Central Command indicated that the strike targeted a storage facility near the town of Harem on the Turkish-Syrian border. Harem is considered a strategically important border town, because it lies on a chief smuggling route. [Asharq al-Awsat, Reuters, 11/20/2014]

US Gen. Allen: ISIS has “impaled” itself on Kobani
ISIS has “impaled itself” on Kobani by pouring fighters into the strategic Syrian town so they can be bombed by the US-led coalition, a senior US envoy said Thursday. Retired General John Allen, coordinator of the coalition against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, told Turkey’s Milliyet newspaper an estimated 600 ISIS fighters had already been killed in airstrikes and the group would ultimately be defeated in the battle for the town. He said that ISIS had sought to make a symbol out of Kobani by defeating the Kurdish forces seeking to retain control of the town. [AFP, 11/20/2014]

French authorities identify second French citizen in ISIS beheading video
The identity of a second French militant suspected of participating in Sunday’s gruesome murder of American aid worker, Peter Kassig, was confirmed by French authorities earlier this week. Sources indicated that the man identified as Michaël Dos Santos travelled to Syria in August 2013 and had been under the radar of French intelligence services due to his active social media presence. More than 1,130 French citizens are suspected to be involved in jihad-linked organizations inside Iraq and Syria. [Asharq al-Awsat, 11/19/2014]

Turkish prime minister meets with Iraqi counterpart in Baghdad
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu met his Iraqi counterpart Haidar al-Abadi in Baghdad Thursday, indicating a slow reconciliation of long-strained ties between the two countries. His visit follows a trip to Turkey by Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari earlier this month that aimed at strengthening ties between the two neighbors. The two countries have previously disagreed over the protracted Syrian conflict and the Kurdistan Regional Government’s right to export oil independently without Baghdad’s approval. [Naharnet, 11/19/2014]

New Amnesty report highlights Turkey’s straining effort to accommodate refugees
A new Amnesty International report released Thursday indicated that Turkey is shouldering the heaviest burden of hosting half of the estimated 3.2 million Syrian refugees. An estimated 1.6 million Syrian refugees have entered Turkey since the Syrian war began in March 2011 and about 220,000 are living in twenty-two government-run camps that offer food and essential services. The remaining 1.38 million are living outside the camps, mostly in communities along the Turkey-Syria border. [AP, 11/20/2014]


Houthis will stay out of Marib
A spokesman for the houthis said that the group would not venture into Marib province after tribesmen vowed to attack oil pipelines if faced with houthi encroachment. Tribesmen in the area allegedly spoke with Houthi representatives and assured them that they would fight al-Qaeda in the province, making any Houthi military presence in Marib unnecessary. Since Saturday, nearly 2,000 tribesmen armed with light and heavy weapons have stationed themselves outside the city of Marib. An al-Qaeda official based in Aden said that militants from that group would also not enter the province except to fight the Houthis. [Yemen Times, 11/20/2014]

Houthis allegedly using sports stadium in Amran to hold prisoners
A government source in the city of Amran reported that Houthi militants are using the city’s sports stadium to house prisoners they have captured. The source said that Amran Sports Stadium is not only housing prisoners from Amran province, but is currently serving as a central prison to which prisoners from Sana’a and other provinces are being transported. A former detainee said that the hundreds of people were being held in the stadium. [Al Masdar, 11/20/2014]

Food convoy from Huta in Lahj heads to Khormaksar Square in Aden
Arrangements concluded for protesters from the city of Huta in Lahj province to head for Khormaksar Square in Aden, contributing food and labor to the already significant sit-in demonstrations taking place there. Leaders of the council of the Peaceful Revolutionary Movement set out from Huta Thursday and were expected to arrive in Aden by the evening. Independence demonstrations have gained traction in Lahj over the past week, with flags being raised over schools and government buildings in the province. [Aden al-Ghad, 11/20/2014]

UN news agency: Yemen political crisis benefits smugglers
IRIN reported Thursday that Yemen’s political disorder has been beneficial for smuggling migrant workers from the Horn of Africa into Saudi Arabia. The weakening of official security has allowed thousands of Africans to pass into and through the country. September saw the single largest monthly influx of workers ever with 12,768, primarily from Ethiopia. A lucrative business of extortion and smuggling has developed along the Red Sea migration route, preying on the travelers who know little about Yemen. The migrants overwhelmingly arrive illegally by boat from neighboring Djibouti. When they arrive, the smugglers routinely beat and rape them as they seek to extract extra payments. Then they begin their over journey up the coast. [IRIN, 11/20/2014]

King of Saudi Arabia urges Egypt to back Riyadh agreement
Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz issued a statement Wednesday calling on Egypt to back the agreement reached at the recent Riyadh summit that ended an eight-month crisis involving Qatar and three fellow Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member states. Egypt, along with GCC states Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the UAE recalled its ambassador to Qatar earlier this year over tensions relating to the Qatari government’s support of the now-banned Muslim Brotherhood. “I appeal to the people and leadership of Egypt to seek with us the success of this step in the march of Arab solidarity—as we always have known it—as supporter for the efforts of joint Arab action,” read a statement issued by the Kingdom’s Royal Court. Cairo’s ambassador to Riyadh, Afifi Abdel Wahab, said that his country “opens its arms to embrace its Arab brothers and will continue to perform its role in confronting the challenges facing the region.” [Asharq al-Awsat, 11/20/2014]

Bahrain releases pro-democracy activist
Bahraini authorities released pro-democracy activist Zainab al-Khawaja from detention on Wednesday, her lawyer and sister said, as she awaits trial over a charge of insulting Bahrain’s king by tearing up his picture. Al-Khawaja fell afoul of the judge last month during an appeal hearing for two cases that date back to 2012, her lawyer Mohammed al-Wasati said at the time. Al-Khawaja, who is pregnant and lives in Bahrain, was an activist during 2011 pro-democracy protests, where she became known for publishing news of the uprising on social media. Her tearing of the picture violated a law imposed earlier this year carrying a jail sentence of up to seven years and a fine of up to 10,000 dinars ($26,500) for anyone who publicly insulted him. She still has to face trial next month. [Reuters, 11/19/2014]


Egypt to issue $1.75 billion one-year treasury bill
According to Egypt’s central bank, it has decided to offer a $1.75 billion one-year treasury bill to local banks and foreign financial institutions at an auction on November 25. With the reluctance of foreigners to invest in Egypt, the Egyptian government has turned towards the local money market to finance its public deficit. [Reuters, 11/20/2014]

Libya official sees OPEC at least cutting above-target oil output
According to Libyan officials, OPEC will decide to remove crude oil pumped above the minimum target from the market in order to support prices that hit a four-year low. Oil ministers from OPEC will meet on November 27 to consider adjusting the output target of 30 million bpd. Last month, Libya’s OPEC governor called for an OPEC cut of at least 500,000 bpd but said that Libya should be exempt from the measure since it is trying to sustain renewed production hit by months of fighting and protests. [Zawya, 11/19/2014]

Jordan’s economy is doing fine
Jordan’s minister of finance said that Jordan’s economy is doing well and is able to grow in spite of the pressures of the budget deficit and rising debt. According to international reports and international rating agencies, Jordan’s economy has been upgraded to “stable.” Jordan’s positive credit rating upgrade is expected to have an impact on reducing debt and lowering the cost of internal and external borrowing. [Zawya, 11/20/2014]