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Islamists News Digest: February 2020

The following is a roundup of February developments related to Islamist groups, organized by country.

Algeria

Feb. 9: The Islamic State claimed responsibility for an attack on a military barracks in southern Algeria near the border with Mali. The suicide bombing killed one soldier. “The martyred brother Omar al Ansari ... entered the base and exploded his car against them,” the Islamic State said in a statement.

Egypt

Feb. 2: A group of masked militants blew up a gas pipeline in the northern Sinai town of Bir al Abd. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack. The pipeline, owned by the East Mediterranean Gas Company, carried gas imports from Israel’s Leviathan field to el Arish in Sinai.

Feb. 6: The Civil Democratic Movement, the country’s largest coalition of opposition parties, proposed amending parliamentary election laws to prevent the election of candidates linked to the Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood was banned from electoral politics in 2014, but Brotherhood-affiliated candidates could run as independents. The amendment showed that the opposition movement “will not be an ally of the Brotherhood's return to political life after the terrorist acts it committed, even if it were to confront the current political regime that we oppose,” according to a Civil Democratic Movement member.

Feb. 9: The military said that it had foiled an attack on an army post in northern Sinai by “killing 10 terrorists and destroying a four-wheel drive used by the terrorist elements.” Seven soldiers were killed in the shootout.

Feb. 11: Security forces killed 17 jihadists in a raid on their hideout in el Arish. The interior ministry said that the “terrorist elements” were planning “hostile operations” and had stockpiled weapons and explosives.

Feb. 25: Hosni Mubarak, the former autocratic president who ruled Egypt from 1981 to 2011, died at the age of 91. He was overthrown after millions of Egyptians took to the streets to protest the regime’s corruption and human rights violations. After his ouster, Mubarak was charged with corruption and conspiracy to murder. He was ultimately convicted of a minor charge and released in March 2017.

Jordan

Feb. 7: The Muslim Brotherhood organized protests in Amman against the U.S. Middle East peace plan for the second Friday in a row. Hundreds of demonstrators, including many Islamist lawmakers, carried banners reading “Jerusalem is a trust” and “the Jordan Valley is for Jordanians … not for Zionists.” They burned Israeli and American flags.

Feb. 10: The Court of Cassation ruled that the Muslim Brotherhood had been dissolved in the country in 1956. The court declared that the group’s successor, under the same name, is an illegal body. The ruling contradicted a 2015 edict from the Legislation and Opinion Bureau, which allowed the transfer of assets from the old Muslim Brotherhood to the current group.   

Lebanon

Feb. 11: The new government, formed last month, won the approval of parliament. Before the vote, Prime Minister Hassan Diab urged national unity to tackle the country’s growing economic crisis. “We must be honest and acknowledge that the risk of collapsing is unfortunately not imaginary,” he said.  It was the first government to be exclusively backed by Hezbollah, a Shiite Islamist party and militia, and its allies. Protesters tried to block the session and clashed with security forces. The Lebanese Red Cross said that 373 people were injured. For months, demonstrators have criticized the ruling political parties for failing to address systemic economic problems.

Feb. 15: Hezbollah unveiled a giant statute of the slain commander of Iran’s elite Qods Force, Qassem Soleimani. Soleimani, killed in January 2020 in a U.S. airstrike, was a key liaison to the group. The statue was erected in the town of Maroun al Ras near the Israeli border. The Iran-backed group also built an observation deck, which provided views into Israel. 

Feb. 16: Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah warned that Lebanon could collapse if the new government failed. He urged politicians not to interfere with the cabinet’s attempts to address the country’s urgent economic and financial crisis. Nasrallah rejected allegations that the cabinet was dominated by Hezbollah.

Feb. 17: Prime Minister Hassan Diab, who is backed by Hezbollah, met with Ali Larijani, Iran’s parliamentary speaker, in Beirut. Larijani expressed his government’s “full readiness” to support Lebanon while it deals with its economic crisis. Larijani was the first senior foreign official to visit Lebanon since Diab’s government took office.

Feb. 25: Hezbollah said that it opposed intervention from the International Monetary Fund to help ease Lebanon’s financial crisis. “We will not accept submitting to (imperialist) tools ... meaning we do not accept submitting to the International Monetary Fund to manage the crisis,” said Sheikh Naim Qassem, the group’s deputy leader.

Feb. 26: The United States sanctioned a Hezbollah-linked investment firm and its subsidiaries in Lebanon. The Treasury Department said that Atlas Holding was owned by Hezbollah's Martyrs Foundation, which provided stipends to families of Hezbollah fighters who were killed or wounded in battle.

Libya

Feb. 5: Turkey deployed Syrian militants linked to al Qaeda and ISIS to support the Government of National Accord (GNA), according to militia leaders and a war monitor. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that Turkey had deployed 4,700 Syrian mercenaries, including 130 former Islamic State or al Qaeda fighters.

Feb. 18: The GNA pulled out of cease-fire negotiations after the Libyan National Army, headed by Khalifa Haftar, shelled Tripoli’s port. The Tripoli-based government said that it would not rejoin talks “until firm responses are taken against the attacker, and we will respond firmly to the attack in appropriate timing.”

Feb. 21: Turkey admitted to sending Syrian opposition fighters to Libya in support of the GNA. “Turkey is there with a training force. There are also people from the Syrian National Army,” Erdogan said at a press conference.

Palestinians

Feb. 16: The Israeli military announced that it had foiled an attempt by Hamas to hack into the phones of Israeli soldiers by posing as young Israeli women seeking romance. The hackers used fake social media profiles and messaged the soldiers in Hebrew slang, according to Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Conricus. “We see that they're of course learning and upping their game,” he said. Conricus added that there was no “significant breach of information.”

Feb. 24: Israel and the Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad agreed to a cease-fire after two days of violence. During the clashes, Israel had attacked targets in the Gaza Strip and Islamic Jihad fired rockets into southern Israel. The violence had threatened to disrupt Israeli elections scheduled for the following week.

Syria

Feb. 6: Israeli warplanes targeted Iranian-backed militias on the outskirts of Damascus, killing 23 Syrian and foreign fighters. The pre-dawn attacks reportedly killed three Iranian nationals.

Feb. 24: An Israeli airstrike near the Damascus airport killed six people, including two fighters from the Palestinian Islamic Jihad group. “This cowardly aggression in Damascus was a reflection of the enemy's failure to confront our fighters inside occupied Palestine,” the group said in a statement.

Feb. 27: An Israeli drone attack on a Syrian village in the Golan Heights killed Imad Tawil, a senior Hezbollah official, according to local media reports. Israel did not release a statement on the attack. Hezbollah has played a key role in shoring up the Assad regime since at least 2012.

Feb. 27: A Syrian government airstrike killed 33 Turkish soldiers in opposition-held Idlib province in northwest Syria. The Turkish government condemned the attack and said that it had “neutralized” 309 soldiers in airstrikes on 200 Syrian government targets. "There is a risk of sliding into a major open international military confrontation," said E.U. foreign policy chief Josep Borrell. "It is also causing unbearable humanitarian suffering and putting civilians in danger."

Tunisia

Feb. 15: Tunisia’s main Islamist party, Ennahda, rejected the proposed government of prime minister-designate Elyes Fakhfakh. Abdelkarim Harouni, the head of Ennahda’s Shura Council said that Fakhfakh’s proposal “is below the required standard and does not achieve the goal of national unity; it includes an imbalance between the participating parties.”

Feb. 27: Parliament approved the proposed government of prime minister-designate Elyes Fakhfakh, ending months of political deadlock. The new government included 32 cabinet members, including six from Ennahda. “All this has proved the strength of the Tunisian experience and its ability to manage discord in accordance with the constitution and away from populism and political tensions,” said Ennahda leader Rached Ghannouchi.

Turkey

Feb. 13: Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said that Ankara would use force against any rebel groups who violated the January 12 ceasefire agreement in Syria. He added that Turkey was sending reinforcements to Idlib province to better “control” the region. Idlib was the last stronghold for rebel and jihadist groups that opposed the Assad regime. 

Yemen

Feb. 6: The United States confirmed that it had killed Qassim al Rimi, the leader of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and a deputy to al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri, in a targeted airstrike at the end of January. “Under Rimi, AQAP committed unconscionable violence against civilians in Yemen and sought to conduct and inspire numerous attacks against the United States and our forces,” said a White House statement. “His death further degrades AQAP and the global al-Qa’ida movement, and it brings us closer to eliminating the threats these groups pose to our national security.”

Feb. 23: AQAP confirmed the death of its leader Qassim al Rimi, according to SITE Intelligence. AQAP religious official Hamid bin Hamoud al Tamimi announced that Khalid bin Umar Batarfi, al Rimi’s deputy, would be the group’s new leader.

 

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