Home > Publications > Political and security risk updates > The weekly briefing, 26 July 2016: Zimbabwe war veterans withdraw support for Robert Mugabe, Brazilian federal police arrest 10 people suspected of planning to attack Olympic Games, four violent attacks occur across southern Germany in last week

The weekly briefing, 26 July 2016: Zimbabwe war veterans withdraw support for Robert Mugabe, Brazilian federal police arrest 10 people suspected of planning to attack Olympic Games, four violent attacks occur across southern Germany in last week

by Kirsten Winterman, Erin Decker and Matthew Clarke

Briefing

Africa: Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association withdraws support for Robert Mugabe; South Sudanese anti-governmental forces temporarily replace leader following intense fighting between rival troops.

Americas: Federal police in Brazil arrest 10 people suspected of planning to carry out terrorist attack during Olympic Games; Guatemala’s health minister resigns amid widespread corruption within country’s health sector.

Asia-Pacific: Cambodia’s Ministry of Defence attempting to identify man threatening coup against country’s prime minister; joint police and military operation on Sulawesi kills leader of radical Islamist militant group the East Indonesia Mujahideen.

Europe: EU leaders considering plan to allow United Kingdom to retain access to European single market while also placing controls on freedom of movement; four violent attacks occur across southern Germany in last week, with two linked to Islamic State.

Middle East: More than 20 people killed and over 35 injured in suicide attack carried out by Islamic State in Iraqi capital; four makeshift hospitals and a blood bank in Aleppo hit by Syrian government airstrikes.

Zimbabwe

The Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association (ZNLWVA) released a statement on 21 July withdrawing its support for the country’s president, Robert Mugabe, and stating that it would not support him in the next election. Four days after the statement, Zimbabwe’s defence minister, Sydney Sekeramayi, called the war veterans treasonous and claimed that the statement was the work of a ‘fifth column’. The ZNLWVA’s move is surprising, as the association has consistently backed Mugabe throughout his 36 years in power, often providing a violent counter to those opposing his government. While the full impact of Mugabe’s hitherto most-loyal backers withdrawing their support remains to be seen, it is possible that the move will delegitimise Mugabe within his ruling Zanu-PF party and will likely fuel further opposition protests

South Sudan

On 24 July, South Sudanese anti-governmental forces – the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-in-Opposition (SPLM-IO) – temporarily replaced its leader, the country’s vice-president, Riek Machar, following intense fighting between rival troops that left over 300 people dead. Machar has been in hiding since the outbreak of violence and has refused to respond to ultimatums by the president, Salva Kiir, to return to Juba and continue peace talks, arguing that he would only return when an international body had established a buffer zone between the rival forces. While Machar’s replacement, Tang Deng, the former chief negotiator for the rebels, has been accepted as an interim vice-president by Kiir, Machar’s spokesperson has stated that Deng was recently dismissed from his post and therefore any meetings involving him would make the peace process illegal. The latest setback further risks the fragile peace plan, and instability is likely to continue.

Brazil

On 21 July, federal police in Brazil arrested 10 people suspected of planning to carry out a terrorist attack during the Olympic Games, set to take place in Rio de Janeiro between 5 and 21 August. The suspects are Brazilian nationals who had formed a group called Defenders of Sharia and sympathised with Islamic State, though authorities have stated that the members had no formal training and were ‘absolute amateurs’. The group was in the planning stages of an attack, and had been in contact with weapons dealers in an attempt to obtain assault rifles when they were arrested. This latest incident follows an uptick in reports of terrorism-related messages and threats surrounding the Olympic Games over the past weeks. The increasing numbers of threats from IS militants and sympathisers highlight the fact that extremist groups view the high-profile, international event as a possible target for attacks. It is likely that the threats will continue in the run-up to the Olympic Games, and that the country’s security forces will continue to be on high alert.

Guatemala

Guatemala’s health minister, Alfonso Cabrera, announced his resignation on 20 July, just seven months after being appointed to the post by the country’s president, Jimmy Morales. This follows the resignation of the deputy health minister, Rodolfo Zea, on 24 June. Although Cabrera cited personal reasons in his resignation letter, his resignation is most likely tied to issues of widespread corruption within Guatemala’s health sector, which is considered one of the worst crises in the country’s history. The severity of the corruption was highlighted last year when a wave of public fraud scandals came to light, including a healthcare corruption case involving USD14.5 million in irregularities in medical service contracts in the country’s Social Security Institute. Cabrera’s resignation also comes amid protests by health worker labour unions over conditions in the country’s hospitals, especially the shortages of medicine and other supplies. These protests are likely to continue and possibly intensify in the coming weeks. The appointment of a new health minister is unlikely to significantly improve the situation in the country’s health sector in the near term.

Cambodia

On 21 July, Cambodia’s Ministry of Defence reported that it is attempting to identify a man who is threatening a coup against the country’s prime minister, Hun Sen. The man has recently posted videos to social media accusing the country’s ‘dictatorial regime’ of land grabs and human rights violations. He also called on an unspecified unit supposedly under his command in southwestern Cambodia, the military and government to be prepared for a coup. The Khmer National Liberation Front (KNLF) has confirmed that the man is a member of their exile opposition group, which the government considers a terrorist organisation. Videos have also appeared on social media showing several tanks being moved from a military base along the Thai border to the country’s capital, Phnom Penh, which some have cited as possible evidence of an impending coup, though military spokespeople have denied this. Cambodia’s military is generally considered to be loyal to the prime minister, and it is unlikely that the alleged coup plot will pose a significant threat to the government. Even though the man’s identity has not yet been confirmed by the authorities, it is unlikely that he holds any authority or influence over the military, and the alleged coup will most likely not materialise. Furthermore, although Sen is widely unpopular among the Cambodian diaspora, he is unlikely to face any threat in the near term to his position as prime minister, a role he has held since 1998.

Indonesia

Local media in Indonesia have reported that a joint police and military operation has killed Santoso, the leader of the radical Islamist militant group the East Indonesia Mujahideen (MIT), on Sulawesi on 18 July. The country’s security forces had been searching for the MIT leader for nearly five years. Santoso is believed to have been leading the group since at least 2011, and is responsible for numerous attacks on Indonesian state apparatus and Christians in the country. He publicly pledged allegiance to Islamic State in 2014, and MIT is believed to have received funds from Islamic State. Although Santoso’s death leaves the MIT without a leader in the short term, it is unlikely to reduce the risk of terrorist attacks in Indonesia over the longer term for two reasons. Firstly, Santoso’s right-hand man, Mohamad Basri (alias Bagong), remains at large and is likely to assume leadership of the group. Secondly, other militants in the country and region retain links to Islamic State.

United Kingdom

EU leaders are considering a plan to allow the United Kingdom to retain access to the European single market while also placing controls on the freedom of movement. The unexpected deal would allow Britain to place emergency brakes on EU immigration at any points over the next up to 7-10 years when there is pressure on the domestic labour market. While still early, this is an idea that is likely to gain traction with Brexit negotiators and British politicians, as it combats the main issue for many Britons who voted to leave the EU – immigration – and attempts to limit the economic fallout of leaving by keeping Britain in the single market. It is unlikely that a one-off cooling period on EU immigration would be well received by leave supporters and very unlikely that a complete halt to EU immigration could happen if the United Kingdom wished to remain in the single market, which is essential to the country’s long-term economic stability. However, while the idea of a multi-use brake addresses both these restrictions, it does not recognise the fact that although goods and services could still be freely traded, the ability of companies to employ the people necessary to do business would be curbed. Furthermore, the United Kingdom would still have to make a sizeable contribution to the EU budget, but would have no say in the development of EU rules.

Germany

Four violent attacks have occurred across southern Germany in the last week. On 18 July, a teenage Afghan refugee attacked passengers on a train in Wuerzburg with an axe and knife, wounding five people before being shot by police. The attack has been claimed by Islamic State. On 22 July, a German-Iranian teenager in Munich shot dead nine people and injured four before shooting himself. The man’s motives are unclear, though he was reportedly inspired by other mass shootings that had no jihadist links, and he appears to have acted alone. On 24 July in Reutlingen, a 21-year-old Syrian refugee killed a pregnant Polish woman with a machete and injured five other people before being apprehended by police. The man knew the victim, and the attack is likely to have been related to their relationship. Later on 24 July, a 27-year-old Syrian whose refugee application had been refused blew himself up and injured 15 people outside a bar in Ansbach after attempting to gain entry to a music festival in the city. The suicide bomber left a video on a mobile phone in which he pledged allegiance to Islamic State, and the group has claimed responsibility for the attack. Although these four attacks are unrelated to each other, Europe is on high alert following the IS-inspired attack in Nice on Bastille Day that killed 84 people. Against this background, the fact that three of the attackers in Germany were refugees and one was the son of asylum-seekers will likely increase community tensions in the country.

Iraq

More than 20 people were killed and over 35 injured in a suicide attack carried out by Islamic State in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, on 24 July. The attack took place close to a security checkpoint in the predominantly Shiite area of Kadhimiyah in the northwest of the city. Other attacks in which three civilians were killed and around 11 wounded took place in the west of the city. In response, Iraqi security forces have increased protection around the mainly Shiite districts of Karrada and Kadhimiyah and increased inspections at checkpoints across the city. Although Baghdad has been on high alert since a deadly car bombing at a shopping centre in Karrada earlier in the month, it is likely that Islamic State will continue to successfully carry out attacks in the city as it continues to lose territory in Iraq, Syria and Libya.

Syria

Four makeshift hospitals and a blood bank in Aleppo were hit by Syrian government airstrikes on 24 July. The attacks took place shortly after an announcement by the Syrian government that it was ready to further UN-supported peace talks with the opposition and that it was seeking a political resolution to the conflict. Talks are expected to reconvene in August in Geneva. Despite this, government forces continue to place the rebel-held east of Aleppo under siege after blocking the last rebel supply route, the Castello Road. Attacks on the rebel-held areas of the city are likely to continue prior to the talks in spite of a ceasefire being agreed in February.

Prepared by Kirsten Winterman, Erin Decker and Matthew Clarke.

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