Greater Middle East

AQAP suicide bomber kills nearly 100 Yemeni troops

A suicide bomber killed more than 90 Yemeni troops as they practiced for a parade in the capital Sana'a May 21. The bomber was dressed as a soldier and detonated his explosives-packed vest in the middle of a formation of troops from the Central Security Organization, a paramilitary branch of the Ministry of the Interior. The troops were drilling for the upcoming "National Unity Day" parade at a location near the Presidential Palace. Yemen's defense minister and the military chief of staff were planning on greeting the troops at the rehearsal. Ninety-six troops, many from the Central Security Organization, were killed and at least 300 wounded in the blast, with the death toll expected to rise. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula claimed the attack, according to a statement released by the Madad News Agency, an AQAP propaganda arm. "The primary target of this blessed operation was the Defense Minister of the Sana'a regime and his corrupt entourage, and that it came in response to the unjust war launched by the Sana'a regime's forces in cooperation with the American and Saudi forces," the statement said, according to a translation by the SITE Intelligence Group. (Long War Journal, May 21)

Syrian war spreads to Lebanon

Armed clashes erupted in Beirut between rival Sunni factions May 21, wounding at least six people. The fighting broke out after Sheikh Ahmed Abdul Wahid, a Sunni cleric, and Muhammed Hussein Miraib, both members of the March 14 Alliance, were shot in their car near Tripoli as they reportedly tried to run a government checkpoint. Lebanon's state-run National News Agency said that gunmen were using "bombs and machine guns." The March 14 Alliance, which emerged from the Cedar Revolution, sympathizes with the rebellion against Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. Residents of the northern region of Akkar also blocked off roads and burned tires to protest against the killings. The Beirut fighting follows a week of sporadic clashes in Tripoli, also between pro- and anti-Assad Sunni groups. Gunfire first broke out in Tripoli May 14 as sympathizers of the Syrian rebellion, apparently including many Islamists, tried to approach the offices of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party—which is basically the Lebanese wing of Syria's ruling Ba'ath Party. The march on the party headquarters was a response to the May 12 arrest of Sunni Islamist activist Shadi al-Mawlawi and five others by Lebanon's General Security Directorate. (AlJazeera, Radio Australia, AP, May 21; Foreign Policy, May 15; Now Lebanon, May 14)

US resumes arms sales to Bahrain —despite ongoing abuses

The US is to resume military sales to Bahrain, suspended last year due to human rights concerns, the State Department announced May 11. The Obama administration notified Congress that certain sales would be allowed for Bahrain's defense force, coast guard and national guard, although it would maintain a hold on TOW missiles and Humvees. "We have made the decision to release additional items to Bahrain mindful of the fact that there are a number of serious unresolved human rights issues that the government of Bahrain needs to address," the State Department statement said. A scheduled $53 million sale was halted in October when members of Congress voiced concern about arming the dictatorship. At that time, the State Department assured Congress that it would take into account progress of human rights reforms in Bahrain before proceeding with the sale.

US military advisors return to Yemen

Isn't it interesting how different news outlets can take exactly the same facts and come up with completely opposite headlines? It seems that the US military advisors in Yemen, pulled out last year due to human rights abuses by the crumbling regime of Ali Abdullah Saleh, are set to return now that Saleh has been ousted and (sort of) democratic elections held. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, questioned whether this could be a prelude to a greater commitment of ground troops, said: "There's no consideration of that." So The Hill, in its portentously named "defense blog" DEFCON Hill, heds its story, "Panetta guarantees no US troops headed to Yemen." The Christian Science Monitor, perhaps hoping an alarmist hed will result in more hits, opts for, "US sends troops to Yemen as Al Qaeda gains ground." Cute, huh? We hope both these publications will emulate the example of World War 4 Report in future, and give heds that accurately represent the facts. We note with chagrin that neither account actually bothers to tell us how many advisors are being dispatched, what branch of the armed forces they are from, or any other such details.

"Eager Lion": Pentagon leads unprecedented exercises on Syrian border

The Pentagon is this week leading the largest multinational military exercises in the history of Jordan, with maneuvers planned along the Syrian border as well as in the Gulf of Aqaba, across from Israel. The "Eager Lion 2012" exercises are bringing together army units from 17 countries, including Jordan, the United States, France, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. In response to the obvious question from journalists, officials said that the war game scenarios are not directed at any particular enemy, and that Operation Eager Lion was planned three years in advance. Maj. Robert Bockholt, public affairs officer at US Special Operations Command Central (SOCCENT), said: "Execution of Eager Lion 2012 is not connected to any real-world event. It has nothing to do with Syria. It is just a coincidence."

Bahrain authorities arrest prominent human rights activist

Bahraini authorities on May 7 arrested prominent human rights activist Nabeel Rajab, according to the country's Interior Ministry. According to his lawyer, Rajab was arrested for messages he posted on Twitter criticizing the Interior Ministry. Rajab is the president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), a group that has been critical of the Bahraini regime's response to protests and demonstrations in Bahrain which have been ongoing since February 2011. Following Rajab's arrest, the BCHR expressed concern that "[t]he authorities in Bahrain have used many methods in attempting to prevent and/or limit human rights defenders in Bahrain from carrying out their work of documenting and reporting on human rights violations in the country." Rajab was charged with insulting a statutory body and will be detained for seven days.

Syria accused of war crimes; Turkey threatens NATO intervention

A new Human Rights Watch report charges that Syrian government forces killed at least 95 civilians and burned or destroyed hundreds of houses during a two-week offensive in northern Idlib governorate shortly before the current "ceasefire" took effect. The occurred in late March and early April, as UN special envoy Kofi Annan was negotiating with Damascus to end the fighting. (HRW, May 2) Fighting of course continues despite the supposed "ceasefire," and the Turkish government warned May 2 that clashes are once again approaching the border zone between the two countries. Syrian government forces clashed with a group of army defectors who supposedly tried to seize territory near the Turkish border. Recalling the April 9 incident in which Syrian government forces fired on a refugee camp across the border at Oncupinar, Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan last week invoked a threat of NATO intervention, warning: "If border violations continue in a way that disturbs us, we, as a member of NATO, will take the necessary steps." (AP, May 3; The National, UAE, May 2)

Who is behind Damascus terror blasts?

An Islamist group calling itself "al-Nusra Front" claimed responsibility for the latest suicide bombing in Damascus—which killed 11 at the city's Zain al-Abideen mosque during Friday prayers April 27. Although it seems two worshippers were among those killed, the assailant blew himself up amid members of the security forces who were gathered outside the mosque, which is popular with Sunni opponents of the Assad regime and has gained a reputation as a launch site for protests. Scores of government troops are now routinely mobilized to the mosque on Fridays. In a statement posted on the Islamist web forum al-Shamukh, the previously unknown al-Nusra also claimed responsibility for a January suicide bombing in the same Damascus district of Midan, and other bombings in Damascus and Aleppo. It said Friday's bombing targeted the "aggressors who surround the houses of God" to attack worshippers after weekly prayers. (Reuters, April 29; IBN, Vatican Radio, April 28; NDTV, April 27)

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