Home > Publications > Political and security risk updates > The weekly briefing, 16 August 2016: New figures reveal extent of pan-European economic slowdown, clashes with Islamic State as Iraqi government and Kurdish forces begin encircling Mosul, Boko Haram releases video purportedly showing abducted Chibok schoolgirls

The weekly briefing, 16 August 2016: New figures reveal extent of pan-European economic slowdown, clashes with Islamic State as Iraqi government and Kurdish forces begin encircling Mosul, Boko Haram releases video purportedly showing abducted Chibok schoolgirls

by Kirsten Winterman, Erin Decker and Matthew Clarke

Briefing

Africa: Boko Haram releases video purportedly showing abducted Chibok schoolgirls; Zambia’s president re-elected in hotly-contested election, sparking riots and accusations of fraud.

Americas: Brazil’s senate votes to hold impeachment trial of country’s president; Mexican president’s approval ratings fall due to concerns over corruption.

Asia-Pacific: Nine apparently-coordinated bombings across central and southern Thailand kill at least four people.

Europe: Newly-announced figures reveal extent of pan-European economic slowdown; German interior minister announces new series of anti-terror proposals.

Middle East: Islamic State claims responsibility for roadside bomb in Quetta, Pakistan; clashes commence after Iraqi government and Kurdish troops begin encircling Mosul ahead of offensive to recapture city from Islamic State; thousands of displaced residents return to Manbij after US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces seize control of area from Islamic State.

Polar regions: Russian Security Council considers plan for new wave of advanced airships for two new transportation routes from Russian Far East, through Siberia and into Europe and the Arctic.

Nigeria

The Nigerian terrorist group Boko Haram released a video on 14 August showing around 50 girls purported to be some of the schoolgirls who were abducted from a school in Chibok in April 2014. The girls in the video are crying and appear to be heavily traumatised. If confirmed, the video will be the first footage of the kidnapped girls since CNN obtained footage of 15 the girls in April 2016. In the video, Boko Haram accuses the Nigerian government of carrying out airstrikes that have killed or injured a number of the girls. The group has called for the release of imprisoned fighters in exchange for the girls. The video comes just months after the Nigerian president, Muhammadu Buhari, claimed that Boko Haram had been militarily defeated in March. The Nigerian government has stated that it is in contact with the group, though the schoolgirls are unlikely to be released unless Buhari meets at least some of the group’s demands.

Zambia

Zambia’s president, Edgar Lungu, has been re-elected after a hotly-contested general election between Lungu for the ruling Patriotic Front(PF) and Hakainde Hichilema for the opposition liberal United Party for National Development (UPND) on 11 August. Lungu won 50.35% of the vote compared to Hichilema’s 47.67%. The election is the first to be held in Zambia after an amendment to the constitution in December 2015 that changed the electoral system from first-past-the-post to a two-round process. The UPND has rejected the result and has accused the Electoral Commission of Zambia of fraud and of colluding in the vote against Hichilema. Rioting has broken out in the south of the country in response to the result. It is highly likely that the UPND will continue to reject the result and that rioting by Hichilema voters will continue.

Brazil

Brazil’s senate voted on 10 August to hold an impeachment trial of the country’s president, Dilma Rousseff, who was suspended in May over alleged illegal accounting practices. Rousseff was accused of spending money without congressional approval and taking out unauthorised loans from state banks. If Rousseff is impeached and permanently removed from office, the interim president, Michel Temer, will remain in post until the next elections in 2018. Polls show that the majority of Brazilians believe Rousseff should be impeached. It looks increasingly likely that the trial, which is set to be held on 25 August, will result in Rousseff being permanently removed from office.

Mexico

The results of a quarterly poll released on 11 August show that only 23% of Mexico’s citizens approve of the country’s president, Enrique Peña Nieto. This rating is down from 30% in April 2016 and 50% in April 2013, and is his lowest approval rating since taking office in December 2012. According to the poll, citizens think that corruption is the issue that Peña Nieto is handling the worst (77% believe he is not addressing it correctly), followed by poverty (75%). The poll highlights the Mexican public’s increasing discontent with official corruption and decreasing approval of the president’s overall performance. Nevertheless, it is unlikely that the government will significantly change any of its policies, and corruption will continue to plague the remainder of Peña Nieto’s term.

Thailand

At least nine apparently-coordinated bombings occurred across central and southern Thailand on 11-12 August, resulting in some of the worst violence seen in the country since the military seized power in a coup two years ago. Police reported that at least four people had been killed and dozens injured, including several foreigners, as some of the blasts took place in the popular tourist cities of Phuket and Hua Hin. No group has yet claimed responsibility, but Thai authorities say that they suspect it is ‘local sabotage’ as opposed to Islamist or international terrorism. It is possible that the attacks may have been prompted by discontent over the recent approval of a contentious draft constitution via a 7 August referendum, but investigations are still underway to determine the motive. It is likely that small-scale bombings of this nature will continue in the near term, at least for the remainder of the military’s rule until the country’s next elections in late 2017.

Europe

Newly-announced figures have revealed the extent of the pan-European economic slowdown. Italian growth fell to 0% between April and June, while German growth fell from 0.7% growth in the preceding quarter to 0.4% this quarter. Growth in the eurozone as a whole halved to just 0.3%. Italy is attempting to solve a bad-debt banking crisis, which, if left unchecked, may cause a similar, albeit smaller, financial crisis to that of 2008-09, and requires both Italian and eurozone growth if a disaster is to be avoided. The slow growth within the European Union has been attributed to the uncertainty created by the British vote to leave the EU, the economic slowdowns around the world and structural weaknesses within both the EU and individual European economies. European leaders will need to do all they can to address these issues, including likely pressing the United Kingdom to trigger Article 50 to leave the EU earlier than it plans to in order to provide the markets with at least some element of certainty and stability.

Germany

The German interior minister, Thomas de Maiziere, has announced a new series of anti-terror proposals, including the removal of German citizenship from all dual nationals fighting for Islamic State, making promoting terrorism a criminal offense and plans to speed up the deportation of foreign criminals. He also announced new surveillance powers for security staff and increased personnel and resources. The moves come after a wave of violent attacks in Europe over the past month, including two in Germany. The plans are likelyto be welcomed by many in Germany, and the minister’s decision to not implement a so-called ‘Burqa ban’ – similar to one imposed by France in 2010 – will help to assure the country’s Muslim population; however, it is less certain whether the plans will actually mitigate the risk of terrorist attacks occurring.

Pakistan

A roadside bomb wounded 17 people in the city of Quetta on 11 August. It is thought that the blast may have been targeted at a vehicle carrying a federal judge. Just days earlier, on 8 August, a suicide bombing at a Quetta hospital killed over 70 people, most of who were lawyers. Islamic State has claimed responsibility for both attacks on social media, though Pakistani authorities note that the group does not have a strong presence in the country, and it likely that Islamic State is claiming responsibility for the attacks in an attempt to raise its profile in the region. The recent attacks are highly likely to elevate the overall security risk in Pakistan and result in the authorities stepping up security measures in the near term. Despite any additional security measures, it is still possible that militants may succeed in carrying out isolated attacks, especially on less heavily guarded facilities, such as hospitals and schools.

Iraq

Clashes commenced on 14 August after Iraqi government and Kurdish troops began encircling the northern Iraqi city of Mosul ahead of an offensive to recapture the city from Islamic State. Mosul has been occupied by the group since June 2014. Conditions in the city are poor, with residents living in fear of punishment if they do not adhere to Islamic State’s strict interpretation of Islamic law. Women are heavily restricted, particularly in their dress; minorities, including Assyrian Christians and the Yazidis, have been persecuted and non-Muslim forced to covert, pay a tax or have been killed; and brutal public torture and punishment have become commonplace intimidation and discipline tools. While it is not yet known when the military offensive will begin, Kurdish forces claim that a number of the smaller villages close to Mosul have been captured in recent days. The humanitarian crises in the area is likely to worsen as the advance on Mosul and its surrounding villages continues.

Syria

Thousands of displaced residents returned to the northern city of Manbij on 13 August after the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) seized control of the area from Islamic State the day before. It is the most significant defeat for Islamic State in Syria since losing Tal Abyad in July 2015. Manbij was significant to the group on account of its location on the supply route between the Turkish border and the IS stronghold of Raqqa. The offensive to reclaim the city was heavily supported by the United States with airstrikes and with a military presence on the ground. While the liberation of the city may boost the SDF, it is not yet clear whether it will significantly weaken Islamic State’s control over the area or whether it will only serve as a temporary set back to the group.

Arctic

The Russian Security Council has been presented with a paper discussing the economic benefits of creating a new wave of advanced airships to be used for two new 9,000 kilometre transportation routes from the Russian Far East, through Siberia and into Europe and the Arctic. The airships would be larger than a Boeing 747, have the capacity to fly for days without stopping and land in areas without an advanced airport. The plan is motivated by the potential economic stimulus to much of rural Russia, and would allow cargo to be transported while avoiding the dangerous ice-breaker driven route through the arctic and without crossing through dangerous shipping canals near Somalia. Russia perhaps envisages that it could use the opportunity to force Europe and the United States to drop sanctions against her in order to be able to use the routes themselves, though it is possible that Europe would counter that by denying the Russian airships access to European airspace unless access was guaranteed irrespective of sanctions. It is likely that such a plan will be welcomed by Moscow, as it has both economic and geopolitical benefits for Russia; however, the $220-240 billion initial cost may make the initiative financially unattainable.

Prepared by Kirsten Winterman, Erin Decker and Matthew Clarke.

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