Top News: US and Yemeni Raid on al-Qaeda Unable to Save Hostages

Thirteen people, including a woman, child, a local al-Qaeda leader, an American journalist, and a South African preacher, were killed Sunday when US-led forces fought Islamist militants in a failed rescue mission in Yemen.

US special forces raided the village of Dafaar in Shabwa province, a militant stronghold in southern Yemen, shortly after midnight on Saturday, killing several members of al-Qaeda. American journalist Luke Somers and South African teacher Pierre Korkie were shot and killed by their captors during the raid intended to free them, US officials said. A civilian group before the raid had actually negotiated Korkie’s release, unbeknown to the United States. He was set to be released later on Sunday.



Morsi’s defense pushes for charges to be dismissed after alleged leaks
The defense of ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi requested Saturday in a court hearing, over espionage charges, that leaked recordings of top post-3 July leaders be investigated for their authenticity, in hope that charges might be dropped against the ousted president. The leaks constitute a number of alleged conversations between top military leaders after the ouster of Morsi, discussing how to manipulate the legal status of Morsi’s detention. Morsi’s lawyer, Montaser al-Zayat said that if the leaks are proven authentic, proving that the documents behind Morsi’s detention are fabricated, then Morsi’s detention is invalid. All procedures taken following Morsi’s then illegal detention, according to al-Zayat, would also be void, and all charges against him would have to be dropped. The prosecution told al-Zayat that the alleged leaks are currently being investigated. The trial was postponed on Sunday to December 14, with his defense lawyer also denying collaboration between the Muslim Brotherhood and the United States. [Ahram Online, DNE, Egypt Independent, Aswat Masriya, 12/7/2014]

Several embassies in Cairo close, update security status
A number of diplomatic missions in Cairo have either closed their doors or updated their travel advice to citizens over the last few days, citing “security reasons.” The British embassy in Cairo suspended public services on Sunday for security reasons. Britain’s Foreign Office said public services were suspended and people should not come to the embassy building. Egypt’s foreign ministry said the suspension of the British embassy office in Cairo is “just a precautionary measure.” An email sent on Monday morning to Canadian citizens living in Egypt stated that the Canadian Embassy will also remain closed over security concerns. An Egyptian security official said that Canadians asked for all roads around the embassy shut down. Shortly after the Canadian Embassy’s announcement, the Cairo security director said that all embassies in Cairo are “highly secured,” but a security source said that a recently-detained suspected militant had confessed to Egyptian authorities “plans to target foreign embassies.” [Ahram Online, DNE, Mada Masr, Reuters, Aswat Masriya, 12/8/2014]

Full Egypt NGO database will be ready in early December
Egypt’s social solidarity ministry will complete an online NGOs database for 45,000 NGOs in Egypt early December, manager of the database project at the ministry, Abir al-Helw said at a press conference late Sunday. Social Solidarity minister Ghada Waly said the database aims to make information about NGOs accessible online so that people are able to know which organizations to assist or donate to, as the ministry prepares to set “efficiency criteria.” The ministry found out that five to seven percent of existing NGOs are not working, and will be closed down. Helw said 310 ministerial administrative councils gathered information on 32,000 NGOs to this point regarding their activities, board of directors’ names, bank accounts, revenues and expenditures, licenses and sources of funding for transparency purposes. [Ahram Online, 12/8/2014]

Egypt court confirms death sentence for Sinai militant Habara, six others
Cairo Criminal Court confirmed Saturday death sentences against Sinai militant Adel Habara and six others for carrying out an execution-style killing of policemen in an ambush in August 2013. Some twenty-five soldiers were killed in the attack. The court had referred the seven defendants to the grand mufti last October to review their sentence, a routine procedure in capital punishment cases. The grand mufti approved of the sentences and the court issued its final verdict in Saturday’s session. The verdict can still be appealed. [Ahram Online, DNE, Reuters, Aswat Masriya, Mada Masr, 12/6/2014]

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Libya’s warring parties put UN-backed talks at risk
Just a couple of days before UN-brokered talks are set to begin, Libya’s warring factions have said their opponents should not participate in the negotiations intended to resolve the current crisis, delivering statements over the weekend laying out conditions that could sabotage any talks. Operation Libya Dawn in Tripoli described as a “red line” any negotiations that failed to recognize the authority of the rump General National Congress, as well as participation by anyone who “hurt the feelings” of the militias holding sway in the country. The parliament in Tobruk said militias not under its authority “cannot be part of the dialogue” and insisted on seeing a list of participants before agreeing to attend talks. [Financial Times, 12/7/2014]

Haftar to be appointed Libyan military’s commander-in-chief, according to source
The House of Representatives in Tobruk is set to officially appoint General Khalifa Haftar as commander-in-chief of Libya’s armed forces, according to a Libyan minister speaking on condition of anonymity. In May, Haftar launched Operation Dignity, a military campaign to purge Benghazi of Islamists. Operation Dignity has since been endorsed and expanded by the Tobruk-based government led by Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni. The source said Haftar would be tasked with reorganizing Libya’s armed forces. In a sign of divisions within the internationally recognized parliament, however, a leading House member denied reports that Haftar would be installed as commander-in-chief. [Asharq Al-Awsat, 12/7/2014]

Tobruk government plans to reopen and expand airport
The Tobruk government has announced plans to open a new airport at an existing smaller facility near the village of Kharrouba, halfway between Benghazi and Bayda. According to a press release, a delegation headed by Abdulsalam al-Badri, deputy prime minister for services, visited the site last week. As it was the first official visit to the area since the 2011 uprising, al-Badri asserted that “the era of marginalization has ended” and that the area deserved “its share of development.” The airport is to be prepared for international operations and services, but authorities gave no dates as to when it may open. Labraq airport, near Bayda, is currently the only operational airport in eastern Libya. [Libya Monitor (subscription), Libya Herald, 12/8/2014]

Nidaa Tounes’ Essebsi picks up critical endorsement from key rival
Presidential candidate Beji Caid Essebsi picked up a key endorsement from political rival Slim Riahi ahead of Tunisia’s runoff election scheduled for December 21. The leader of the Free Patriotic Union (UPL) party declared his support for the Nidaa Tounes candidate during a press conference held late Friday. Slim Riahi ran in the first round of presidential elections and came in fifth with over five percent of total votes. While the vote difference between Essebsi and Marzouki in the first round was around 6 percent, the support of UPL voters could prove decisive for the frontrunners. [Tunisia Live, 12/5/2014]

Administrative court in Tunis rejects all appeals to the first round of presidential elections
A Tunisian court rejected a series of appeals filed by presidential candidate Moncef Marzouki over the weekend, thus confirming the results of the first round of presidential elections held last month. The administrative court rejected nine appeals filed against the Independent Higher Authority for the Elections (ISIE) including eight presented by candidate Marzouki. The appeals alleged gross violations of the election law and accused several political parties of attempting to corrupt the ballot.  [All Africa, 12/7/2014]

Explosions heard near Libya-Tunisia border as authorities elevate alert level
Tunisian forces have been placed on a state of high alert on the Libya-Tunisia border following reports of clashes between rival Libyan factions close to the border on Friday. Several explosions were reported near the Ras Ejdir border crossing and a spokesman from the defense ministry speculated that the explosions were tied to a recent offensive led by forces loyal to the government of Prime Minister Abdullah Al-Thani. The minister, however, affirmed that the National Army’s units had intensified their patrols and increased surveillance along the restive border region. [Tunisia Live, Asharq al-Awsat, 12/6/2014]

Algeria repatriates thousands of illegal migrants
Algeria has begun repatriating thousands of illegal workers to Niger in an operation likely to last several months, the Algerian Red Crescent (CRA) said on Monday. A first group of 318 arrived at a reception centre on Saturday in the main city in southern Algeria, Tamanrasset, Saida Benhabyles of the CRA said. She said they would then be taken on to Agadez in northern Niger. Benhabyles said most were women and children “who have suffered terribly, exploited by criminal networks who robbed them of everything.” [Naharnet, 12/8/2014]


Israeli fighter jets strike targets near Damascus
Israeli warplanes struck at least two areas near Damascus on Sunday, the Syrian Armed Forces General Command said in a statement, apparently ending a months-long suspension in strikes inside Syrian territory. Israeli officials refused to confirm the airstrikes but Syrian government officials said that the fighter jets hit targets near the Damascus international airport and in the town of Dimas, near the border with Lebanon. There were no immediate reports of casualties but sources within the Syrian military indicated that the targeted areas are home to several research facilities and military bases. [NYT, Reuters, 11/7/2014]   

Syrian military planes target ISIS militants near government base in Deir Ezzor
Syrian government warplanes carried out at least eight strikes Sunday against Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) militants attacking a key military air base in eastern Syria. Activists reported at least 150 deaths since ISIS militants attacked the government base, which is the last military installation still controlled by forces loyal to Damascus. Following the attack, a Syrian military official in Damascus told reporters that government troops were still in full control of the base. [AP, 12/7/2014]

Nusra Front executes Lebanese policeman as Qatar ends mediation effort to free captive soldiers
Nusra Front militants on Friday announced that they had executed a Lebanese policeman in retaliation for the Lebanese government’s detention of the wife of one of the groups’ senior commanders. Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) and Nusra Front militants are still holding twenty-five Lebanese army personnel and police officers hostage, after seven were earlier released and four executed. The police officer’s execution comes on the heels of an announcement by Qatari officials who said that the Qatari foreign ministry was suspending its negotiation efforts to free the remaining soldiers and policemen still held by the militants. [Asharq al-Awsat, AP, 12/5/2014

Lebanese military denies ISIS kidnapping of Lebanese soldiers
Lebanese military officials on Monday denied claims that armed militants belonging to the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) had attacked and kidnapped several Lebanese soldiers in the Bekaa Valley. Over the weekend, Al Jazeera TV reported that armed men in the town of Brital near the Syrian border seized a Lebanese officer and three other soldiers. The denial by government officials comes after Lebanese security forces increased operations near the border town of Arsal, blocking several roads, following a militant attack in the border town of Arsal that claimed the lives of six Lebanese security forces. [Naharnet, 12/8/2014]

French official meets with Lebanese Prime Minister as political stalemate deepens
A high-ranking French official arrived in Beirut on Monday to meet with Lebanese officials in a renewed attempt to resolve the political deadlock that has left the country without an elected president since May. The official met with Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil and Prime Minister Tammam Salaam and urged both leaders to find an agreeable solution that will end the ongoing stalemate and return stability to the country as it deals with the humanitarian and security effects of the Syrian crisis. [Naharnet, 12/8/2014]

Anti-ISIS tribal fighters in Anbar sound alarm on dwindling arms, ammunition
Tribal fighters battling the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) for control of the disputed city of Hit in Iraq’s western Anbar province warned on Sunday that they were running critically short of arms and ammunition. Shiekh Naim Al-Kaoud, a prominent leader in the Albunimr tribe told reporters that recent attempts to secure much-needed arms from the Iraqi government were so far unmet. The tribal leader faulted Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi’s government for its low response to these requests but dispelled rumors that tribal leaders in Anbar were actively seeking military support from the US and Iran. The leader distanced himself, and other tribal chiefs in Anbar, from an Iraqi delegation that arrived in Washington last week to request material assistance for the ongoing anti-ISIS campaign. [Asharq al-Awsat, 12/8/2014]


US and Yemeni raid on al-Qaeda unable to save hostages
Thirteen people, including a woman, child, a local al-Qaeda leader, an American journalist, and a South African preacher, were killed Sunday when US-led forces fought Islamist militants in a failed rescue mission in Yemen. US special forces raided the village of Dafaar in Shabwa province, a militant stronghold in southern Yemen, shortly after midnight on Saturday, killing several members of al-Qaeda. American journalist Luke Somers and South African teacher Pierre Korkie were shot and killed by their captors during the raid intended to free them, US officials said. A civilian group before the raid had actually negotiated Korkie’s release, unbeknown to the United States. He was set to be released later on Sunday. [Reuters, NYT, 12/7/2014]

Government sources say Houthis receiving heavy weapons shipments via Red Sea ports
Yemeni government sources said that Houthi fighters have received shipments of heavy weapons via Red Sea ports under their control. The sources said the Houthis  received the weapons shipments via the Red Sea ports of Midi, al-Hudayda, and al-Khokha from an allied “Islamic” country, likely Iran, which some Gulf states accuse of backing the movement, according to the sources. The alleged arms include heavy weaponry as well as machine guns and mines. The report was released the same day the head of Yemen’s National Security Agency Ali al-Ahmadi at a regional security dialogue in Bahrain called on other states to stay out of Yemen’s internal affairs. [Asharq al-Awsat (Arabic), 12/7/2014]

Herak closes Adeni streets for civil disobedience protest
Escalating calls for independence by the souther Herak movement led to the closure of streets in Aden on Monday as part of a civil disobedience campaign. Herak members blocked streets throughout the city with stones and tires, focusing on main streets in the neighborhoods of Crater and Mualla before clashing with security forces. Herak called on the city’s citizens to join in the campaign last Thursday, though many reported that shops and businesses were functioning normally in many parts of the city. Some reports said police used live bullets and tear gas, though no injuries were reported. [Al Masdar, Aden al-Ghad (Arabic), 12/8/2014]

World Bank to support Yemen with $480 million until 2017
A recent report says that the World Bank will provide Yemen with approximately $480 million in aid between 2015 and 2017. The Director of the World Bank’s office in Sana’a Wael Zaqqout said that though Yemen’s economic situation is bad, “it’s not impossible to overcome.” Yemen has had a difficult time adhering to external commitments for the implementation of infrastructure and financial projects due to the repeated sabotage of its oil and gas pipelines, which constitute about 54 percent of government revenues. Zaqqout said that the way forward is implementing reforms beyond oil price changes. Yemen’s foreign currency reserves fell to $4.7 billion in October due to decreasing oil exports. Oil and liquefied natural gas revenues are at their lowest levels since May, with production decreasing 45.8 percent in October. [The New Khaleej, 12/7/2014]

Bahrain welcomes back US diplomat as it signs new military agreement with UK
US Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Tom Malinowski was received in Manama by Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid bin Abdullah al-Khalifa last Thursday. He was declared “unwelcome” by the state after he met with the Shia opposition figures in July. Malinowski was told he “should immediately leave the country, due to his interference in its internal affairs” after meeting with representatives from the Wefaq party, but he was welcome back as Sheikh Rashid spoke of the “special relationship” between Bahrain and the United States and called for reinforcing their security cooperation. The UK defense ministry also plans to improve onshore facilities at the Mina Salman Port. The UK hopes to add a new forward operating base and a place to plan, store equipment for naval operations, and accommodate Royal Navy personnel. [AFP, Reuters, 11/6/2014]

Saudi interior ministry announces arrest of 135 terror suspects
The Saudi interior ministry said authorities arrested 135 terror suspects, including twenty-six foreign nationals, on charges of plotting to carry out terrorist attacks inside the kingdom. During a press conference on Sunday, the ministry’s spokesman Mansour al-Turki said the arrests were part of a nationwide campaign which had detained a number of terrorist suspects with links to foreign militias seeking to recruit Saudi nationals. Turki added that the suspects in custody included sixteen Syrians, three Yemenis, an Egyptian, a Lebanese, an Afghan, an Ethiopian, a Bahraini, and an Iraqi. Forty of the suspects were arrested in different areas for “going to zones of conflict, joining extremist groups and training in the handling of weapons … before returning to the kingdom to destabilize the country,” he said, and an anonymous official source said many of the men had trained in Iraq. [Asharq al-Awsat, 12/8/2014]


Egypt’s foreign reserves fall to $15.88 billion
According to Egypt’s Central Bank, Egypt registered the first foreign reserves decline in six months. The country’s foreign currency reserves fell to $15.88 billion in November from $16.91 billion the previous month. In November, Egypt had repaid a $2.5 billion central bank deposit to Qatar, a move which some economists had warned would negatively impact the country’s reserve levels. [Reuters, Ahram Online, 12/7/2014]

Yemen’s foreign reserves in October the lowest since June
According to Central Bank data, Yemen’s gross foreign currency reserves slipped to $4.9 billion in October, the lowest level since June, exposing the country’s fragile public finances. A plunge in oil prices and frequent attacks on oil pipelines by tribesmen have hurt the state budget. Furthermore, Saudi Arabia suspended most of its donor aid, further harming the country’s economy. [Reuters, 12/7/2014]

Libyan oil output at 800,000 bpd
According to the latest figures, Libya’s crude oil production is stable but the continued closure of the Sharara field is still holding back overall output. Sources from the National Oil Corporation estimate the production currently at 800,000 bpd, up from last week’s 755,000 bpd. Disruptions at both the Sharara and El Feel fields, closed due to tribal clashes last month, have kept Libya from reaching the one million bpd mark. [Libya Monitor (subscription), 12/8/2014]

Saudi-US firms to invest $1.3 billion in Morocco projects
An unidentified group of Saudi and US private investors are planning to channel $1.3 billion for hotels and recreation projects in Morocco. Moroccan authorities have reportedly already allocated 8.7 million square meters for the projects, expected to attract nearly 2 million tourists annually.  [Emirates247, 12/7/2014]