Top News: US Wants Drones to Combat Islamic State in Libya; US Confirms Tunisia’s “non-NATO ally” Status

The United States is in talks with North African countries about positioning drones at a base on their soil to ramp up surveillance of the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) in Libya. It would be the most significant expansion of the campaign against the extremist group in the region. A base in North Africa close to ISIS strongholds in Libya would help the US “fill gaps in our understanding of what’s going on,” a senior administration official said. So far, none of the North African countries that could offer access to a base have agreed to do so. Meanwhile, the United States confirmed Tunisia’s status on Friday as a Major Non-NATO Ally (MNNA). “MNNA status sends a strong signal of our support for Tunisia’s decision to join the world’s democracies,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said in a statement. [The Wall Street JournalAl Arabiya, 7/12/2015]



One killed, ten injured in car bomb blast at Italian consulate in Cairo
A powerful blast left at least one dead in front of the Italian consulate in downtown Cairo Saturday, the second car bomb attack in the Egyptian capital in less than a fortnight. The blast heavily damaged the consulate, shook other buildings downtown, and could be heard in several surrounding neighborhoods. A water pipe on Galaa and July 26 Street was also damaged, causing water leaks. The windows of the nearby Egyptian Museum from the eastern side were smashed by the explosion, however, the artifacts and the display windows inside the museum remained intact, according to Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities. The area is usually busier during working days so the timing of the explosion, on early Saturday morning, may have limited the number of casualties. The consulate has suspended services because of the attack. In an announcement on Twitter, the Sinai State, Egypt’s Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) affiliate, claimed responsibility for the blast. [Ahram Online, DNE, AFP, Aswat Masriya, AP, Reuters, SIS, Cairo Post, Egypt Independent, 7/13/2015]

Sisi issues law authorizing Egypt ministries of defense, interior to found security firms
Egypt’s president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi issued a law on Sunday authorizing the ministry of defense, interior ministry, and the General Intelligence Agency to found security companies providing protection services and/or money transport. The new law stipulates that the minister of interior is the only authority that can issue or revoke licenses for private security companies. The law imposes a maximum of one-year-jail sentence jail and/or a monetary fine on individuals who operate security businesses without prior licensing or use army or police fatigues to carry out their operation. Sisi also issued a law Saturday granting him the right to depose the heads of four state financial and regulatory bodies: the Central Bank of Egypt (CBE), the Administrative Control Authority (ACA), the Accountability State Authority—the country’s central auditing agency (ASA) and the Egyptian Financial Supervisory Authority (EFSA). The president set four conditions for using the right to dismiss the officials, including evidence that they compromised national security, breached their duties by harming the country’s interests or other public figures, or proven morally compromised. The decree met with mixed reactions, arguing its constitutionality. [Ahram Online, DNE, Cairo Post, Egypt Independent, 7/13/2015]

Egypt launches monitor to scrutinize foreign media reports
Egypt has launched a monitoring office run by its State Information Service (SIS) to verify information included in foreign media reports about the country, days after handing out a style guide for foreign reporters operating on its soil. According to the Huffington Post, the FactCheckEgypt office will seek to verify foreign reports and sources on which they rely. It said the US “media ethics” news site iMediaEthics trained office’s staff and works in tandem with the Egyptian government’s SIS. The US online newspaper states that FactCheckEgypt had contacted many reporters who covered the terrorist attacks in North Sinai earlier this month via e-mail in order for them to adapt their reports to the government’s statements, setting a deadline for the request. [Egypt Independent, 7/12/2015]

US navy chief visits Alexandria for security cooperation
US Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Admiral Jonathan Greenert concluded Monday his trip to Egypt, aimed at strengthening naval cooperation between the two countries, according to a statement from the US embassy in Cairo. Greenert met with the Commander in Chief of Egyptian Naval Forces, Rear Admiral Osama Monier Rabie, to discuss cooperation with the Egyptian Navy, security issues, and interoperability. While visiting Abu Qir Naval Base, he toured the Fast Missile Craft that the United States finished delivering to the Egyptian military June 17. The four state of the art vessels, representing a $1.1 billion investment by the United States in the bilateral strategic partnership, will provide an enhanced capability to patrol and protect Egyptian and international maritime interests. “I’m in Egypt to build a stronger relationship with my counterpart Rear Admiral Ossama,” said Greenert. [DNE, Cairo Post, 7/13/2015]

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US wants drones to combat Islamic State in Libya; US confirms Tunisia’s “non-NATO ally” status
The United States is in talks with North African countries about positioning drones at a base on their soil to ramp up surveillance of the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) in Libya. It would be the most significant expansion of the campaign against the extremist group in the region. A base in North Africa close to ISIS strongholds in Libya would help the US “fill gaps in our understanding of what’s going on,” a senior administration official said. So far, none of the North African countries that could offer access to a base have agreed to do so. Meanwhile, the United States confirmed Tunisia’s status on Friday as a Major Non-NATO Ally (MNNA). “MNNA status sends a strong signal of our support for Tunisia’s decision to join the world’s democracies,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said in a statement. [The Wall Street Journal, Al Arabiya, 7/12/2015]

Three leaders of Tunisian al-Qaeda-linked group killed
Three leaders of an al-Qaeda-linked jihadist group that has been blamed for a spate of violence in Tunisia were killed in a raid by security forces last week, said Interior Minister Najem Gharsalli on Sunday. He added, “The operation carried out on Friday by our security forces in cooperation with the army in the region of Gafsa resulted in the elimination of five dangerous terrorists, including three senior leaders” of the Okba Ibn Nafaa Brigades. The three leaders were Tunisian nationals Mourad Gharsalli and Hakim Hazi and Algerian national Lounis Abou Fath. The other two people killed have not yet been identified. [Al Arabiya, 7/13/2015]

Twenty-seven bodies recovered off the Mediterranean Coast
Tunisian authorities recovered twenty-seven bodies of migrants off the Mediterranean Coast who died trying to reach Italy from Libya. Tunisian Security Official Mongi Kadhi said that naval and civil protection units found the migrants between July 3 and 10 off the coast of the cities of Ben Guerdane and Zarzis, close to the Libyan border. He said they appeared to be African migrants. The International Organization for Migration said Friday night that thousands of migrants had been rescued in the last twenty-four hours in the channel of Sicily. [AP, 7/11/2015]

Libyan parties reach peace deal without Tripoli government
Libyan political leaders reached a new version of a UN-brokered peace deal on Saturday, putting pressure on the Tripoli leadership to sign on and build a unity government. The Tripoli government took part in earlier stages of talks but refused to participate in the latest discussions in Morocco. Members of Libya’s internationally recognized parliament, local, and regional leaders initialed the agreement, brokered by UN Envoy Bernardino Leon. Negotiators plan to meet again after Ramadan to work on forming an interim government and finalizing a power sharing agreement, with or without the Tripoli leadership. Leon said the door remained open for the Tripoli government to join the accord. Abdul Gader al-Howailly of the Tripoli government said his General National Congress party met last week and voted against the draft, asking for amendments. Tripoli residents reportedly welcome the deal. [AP, Libya Herald, Al Arabiya, 7/12/2015]

Tripoli furious as Tunisia begins fortifying its border; almost 5,500 Tunisians in militant ranks
There is growing anger in Libya as Tunisia begins work on a fence between the two countries. Revolutionary fighters in Tripoli have angrily denounced the work as a “blatant attack on Libyan sovereignty” and an act of aggression. The Tunisian government, which says the work will be completed by the end of the year, insists the barrier is essential to stop smugglers and the movement of terrorists. In Tripoli, opponents of the fence are accusing the Tunisians of trying to grab Libyan territory under the guise of security measures; they say the defenses under construction lie entirely on the Libyan side of the border. On Friday, UN experts said that almost 5,500 Tunisians are fighting alongside jihadists abroad, urging Tunis to adopt a “national strategic plan” to curb the flow. [Libya Herald, Al Arabiya, 7/12/2015]

ISIS seizes Libyan village without a fight; shelling kills five elderly men in Libya’s Benghazi
Militants from the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) took over a village near Abu Grain on Sunday without encountering any resistance. The village is exactly 100 kilometers along the coastal highway from ISIS held Sirte, from which Misratan fighters were pushed last month. In Sirte, ISIS started demolishing the houses of politicians who oppose the militant group. The militants issued a statement today admitting that the Mujahedeen Shura Council had pushed them out of Derna but vowing to return and avenge their martyred fighters. Meanwhile, at least five elderly men were killed and seventeen wounded in “indiscriminate shelling” that struck a residential neighborhood in Benghazi, Al-Jalaa hospital said Monday. Seventeen other people were brought to the hospital suffering from various wounds. [Libya Herald, Al Arabiya, 7/12/2015]


ISIS bombings kill twenty-eight in Baghdad
Two car bombs and a suicide bomber killed twenty-eight people in predominantly Shia neighborhoods in north Baghdad late on Sunday, according to medical and security forces. In the Shaab district, a parked car exploded near a crowded market, killing ten people, the sources said. As police and bystanders gathered, an attacker blew up explosives strapped to his body, killing nine more people including police and civilians. In the Bunouk district in the capital’s northeast, a car bomb killed nine people. Security forces swept areas nearby, some with sniffer dogs, after receiving information about two further possible bombs, they said. ISIS claimed the string of bomb attacks. In a statement posted on social media, ISIS said Sunday night’s operation was dubbed, “The Pounce of the Monotheists on the Chests of the Apostates.” [Al-Arabiya, AFP, 7/13/2015]

Syrian government raids target ISIS, results in civilian casualties
At least thirteen people, among them a child, were killed in Syrian government raids on the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) held town of al-Bab Monday, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. It also said seven women were among those killed in raids using explosive barrel bombs on the town in northern Aleppo province. One of the places hit in al-Bab was a market selling petrol. More than forty people were wounded and ten others were still missing after the raids. Syria’s army has regularly targeted al-Bab, which ISIS has held since early 2014, but the town has also been hit on occasion by US-led air strikes. Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said that the bombs used by the army in the latest al-Bab bombings were even larger than the often used barrel bombs and described them as ‘container bombs’ which are three times the size of the regular explosives. [AFP, 7/13/2015]

Blast damages citadel wall in Syria’s UNESCO-listed Aleppo
A section of the wall of the ancient citadel in Aleppo was destroyed by an explosion in a tunnel under the city, state media and activists reported on Sunday. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the damage occurred when government forces blew up a tunnel dug by insurgents under the city, while the state news agency accused rebels of the explosion. The Ancient City of Aleppo was added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage sites in danger in 2013. Aleppo was Syria’s most populous city before the eruption of the civil war. It is now divided into areas controlled separately by the government and insurgents who are battling to topple President Bashar al-Assad. [Reuters, 7/12/2015]

Iraq security forces launch operation to oust Islamists from Anbar Province
Iraq’s security forces on Monday launched a long-awaited operation to retake the western province of Anbar from Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) militants, Iraqi state television said. Pro-government Shia militias and local Sunni tribal fighters joined the army and federal police in early morning raids against unspecified ISIS targets. “We will punish the criminals of ISIS in the battlefields,” Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said in a statement. “The heroes of our security forces, the public mobilization units and the tribal sons are causing ISIS terrorists defeats after defeats,” he added. The campaign to push ISIS militants out of Anbar comes nearly two months after the militant group stormed the provincial capital of Ramadi. Additionally, four US F-16 warplanes landed in Iraq on Monday, the first batch of a much-delayed delivery aimed at boosting Iraq’s military capacity, the defense ministry said. “After years of preparation & training in the US, Iraqi pilots today landed the first squadron of Iraqi F16s in #Iraq,” Brett McGurk, President Obama’s deputy envoy for the international coalition against ISIS, said on social media. [Wall Street Journal, AFP, 7/13/2015]

Turkey arrests forty-five ISIS recruits
Turkish security forces have detained forty-five foreign nationals seeking to cross into Syria to join the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) from the southeastern city of Gaziantep. If confirmed, the detentions would mark increased pressure on ISIS by the Turkish authorities after the arrest of twenty-one suspected members of the group in Istanbul and elsewhere on Friday. Western states have repeatedly accused Turkey of not doing enough to halt the flow of militants across its border with Syria. Turkey has fiercely rejected the accusations, saying it is making every effort to secure a long border, and has accused the West of not playing its part to shoulder the burden of hosting 1.8 million refugees from Syria. In an apparent bid to deflect criticism, Turkish authorities have arrested a number of suspected militants in recent months. The latest arrests came after a two-day visit this week by a senior US delegation, during which Turkey pledged more cooperation in the fight against ISIS in Syria. [AFP, 7/12/2015]


Fighting persists in Yemen despite ceasefire agreement
Fighting near the southern Yemeni city of Aden killed thirty-five people on Sunday, the exiled government said, in breach of a temporary humanitarian truce brokered by the United Nations. A weeklong pause in the fighting was meant to have started on Saturday to allow aid deliveries to the country’s 21 million people, but there was no sign of any abatement. At least ten people died in airstrikes overnight into Sunday across Yemen, relatives and medical sources said. A witness said air strikes on the Yemeni capital Sana’a had resumed on Sunday morning. Air strikes were also reported in Taiz, and ground fighting was reported in the neighborhood of Crater, near the main water supply. The Arab coalition said on Saturday the Yemeni government-in-exile had not asked it to observe the truce. [Reuters, 7/13/2015]

UAE executes woman who murdered American teacher
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) on Monday executed Alaa Bader Abdullah al-Hashemi, a woman with links to al-Qaeda extremists who was convicted of murdering an American teacher with a butcher knife in an upscale Abu Dhabi mall. The execution, carried out just two weeks after the country’s top court delivered a guilty verdict, marked a swift end to a case that has rattled the UAE, where violent crime is rare. Authorities say that in addition to the mall murder, al-Hashemi had also planned to execute another American teacher with a homemade explosive, but that it failed to detonate. Al-Hashemi was also found guilty of sending money to al-Qaeda in Yemen and of publishing information aimed at harming the reputation of the UAE. [AP, 7/13/2015]

Bahrain arrests opposition leader freed less than month ago
Bahraini officials announced via twitter that Ibrahim Sharif has been arrested less than a month after his release from prison. Ibrahim, the former head of the National Democratic Action Society, was detained for “violating the law.” The Ministry of the Interior says Sharif was charged with incitement of hatred against and contempt of the government and will remain in custody for forty-eight hours pending further investigation. Sharif is the former secretary general of the group Wa’ad. Authorities freed him last month after serving more than four years in prison for his role in 2011 protests calling for reform in the kingdom. [AP, 7/12/2015]

King Salman shuffles cabinet ministers
Saudi Arabia’s King Salman on Monday named a new housing minister and replaced the head of the royal court in his latest government shuffle. A decree named Minister of State Khaled bin Abdulrahman al-Issa to replace Hamad bin Abdulaziz al-Suwailem as head of the royal court, a type of gatekeeper to the king. The decree gave no reason for the changes. A separate royal decree on Monday named Majid bin Abdullah bin Hamad al-Hugail as housing minister. He replaces an official who temporarily held the portfolio after the previous minister’s dismissal in April. The kingdom is building hundreds of thousands of homes for its citizens in an effort to address a severe shortage. Another royal decree named Prince Mishaal bin Abdullah as governor of the northern region bordering Iraq to replace the previous governor who died this month. Prince Mishaal, a son of the late king Abdullah who Salman succeeded in January, is one of the last remaining high-level officials from the previous era. [AFP, 7/13/2015]


Tunisia sees growth at 1 percent this year
Tunisia’s economic growth is expected to slow to about 1 percent this year, compared with 2.3 percent in 2014, Finance Minister Slim Chaker said. That marks the slowest pace since 2011, according to International Monetary Fund (IMF) data. The government will try to keep the budget deficit at 5 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), Chaker said. Tunisia’s tourism industry, which represents about 7 percent of the economy, has been hit by two major Islamist militant attacks this year. Strikes and protests have also disrupted the country’s vital phosphate exports. [Reuters, Bloomberg, 7/12/2015]

Iraq gets first funding to rebuild war-struck regions
Iraq and the World Bank signed a $350 million loan agreement on Sunday to fund emergency reconstruction in towns recaptured from the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL), a deal Baghdad said marked the first international help to rebuild areas devastated by war. Finance Minister Hoshiyar Zebari said around a third of the money would go toward repairing roads and bridges, with a similar amount allocated to restoring electricity networks, water, and sewage. Zebari said Sunday’s deal granted Iraq a fifteen-year loan at around 1 percent interest, with a five-year grace period. The World Bank is also preparing a separate $1 billion loan to help Baghdad deal with its budget deficit. [Reuters, 7/12/2015]

Egyptian pound steady at auction, stronger on parallel market
Egypt’s central bank held the Egyptian pound steady at 7.73 per dollar for the third straight foreign exchange auction on Sunday after a depreciation earlier this month. The currency strengthened on the parallel market. The central bank said it had offered $40 million and sold $37.5 million at a cut-off price of 7.7301 pounds per dollar. The central bank had held the pound at 7.5301 for the past five months until earlier this month, when it allowed it to weaken. Analysts say letting the pound weaken in a controlled way could boost exports and attract further investment, but also raises Egypt’s large bill for imported fuel and food staples. [Reuters, 7/12/2015]

Saudi crude oil output hits record in June
Saudi Arabia told the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) that it has raised crude oil output to the highest level on record as the country prepares for peak summer demand and the return of Iran to international markets. In the monthly oil market report published by the oil producers’ cartel on Monday, Riyadh reported crude oil production of 10.6 million barrels per day (bpd) in June, an increase of more than 200,000 bpd from May, its highest level since records began. If Saudi Arabia keeps increasing production at this rate, by the end of the summer it could be the first country to pump 11 million bpd of crude since the former Soviet Union. [Financial Times, 7/13/2015]