This week: Somalia, Madagascar, Colombia, Argentina, North Korea, Philippines, United Kingdom, Spain, Bahrain, Jordan and the Arctic.
At least 15 people, including the state minister for environment, Buri Mohamed Hamze, were killed and another 20 wounded in an attack on the popular Nasa Hablod hotel in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, on 25 June. Attackers first detonated a suicide car bomb before storming the building. Somali government forces managed to sweep the building and end the siege some four hours after it had begun. Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for the attack, stating that the hotel was ‘frequented by apostate government members’. The group remains a significant threat to the country, despite being pushed out of Mogadishu in 2011. Attacks against the UN-supported Somali government are likely to continue.
At least two people have died and a further 80 people have been wounded in a grenade attack at a municipal stadium in Antananarivo on 26 June, Madagascar’s national day. The attack took place during a free concert to mark the 56thanniversary of Madagascar’s independence from France. It has been called ‘an act of terrorism’ by the country’s president, Hery Rajaonarimampianina. No group has yet claimed responsibility for the incident. The attack is thought to be linked to tensions between political opponents in the wake of a recent failed impeachment of Rajaonarimampianina over constitutional violations. It is unlikely that the attack will affect the steady improvements to the economy that have been ongoing since late 2013 with the help of international donors who support Rajaonarimampianina.
The Colombian president, Juan Manuel Santos, announced on 23 June that he had signed a bilateral ceasefire and disarmament agreement with Timoleón Jiménez (also known as Timochenko), the commander of the country’s largest rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The peace talks between the two sides began in 2012, and Santos had stated that they hoped to reach a final peace deal by 20 July. The signing of the agreement is considered the most significant progress towards peace between the two parties in the course of their 50-year conflict; however, reaching a final peace deal is likely to be delayed beyond the optimistic deadline of 20 July. It is also possible that violent attacks by guerrilla groups will continue in the interim until a final peace agreement is reached.
The prominent Argentinian drug trafficker Ibar Esteban Pérez Corradi was arrested on 19 June near the country’s border with Brazil. He was a key figure in the illegal trade in ephedrine, which used in the manufacturing of methamphetamine, and is also accused of multiple murders and money laundering. Corradi’s arrest highlights allegations of corruption surrounding the administration of the country’s former president, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, as some members of her administration allegedly had ties to ephedrine trafficking rings and there have been accusations that Corradi may have been receiving political protection. His arrest is likely to weaken support for Kirchner’s Front for Victory political coalition. Support for the coalition has already been steadily eroding over the past year as political and corruption scandals continue to be revealed.
On 22 June, North Korea tested what appeared to be two intermediate-range missiles. The missiles were fired in the direction of Japan, and reached a high altitude before falling into the sea. In addition to increasing overall tensions in the region, the latest launches increased tensions with Japan in particular, as the country put its military on alert after seeing signs that North Korea was preparing the tests. North Korea continues to be willing to defy international warnings and sanctions against conducting nuclear missile tests. It is possible that North Korea’s latest moves will result in tightened sanctions from the UN Security Council, and the country will continue to be isolated from the international community.
On 23 June, Islamic State (IS) released a video in an attempt to recruit fighters in the Philippines and the region. The video urged viewers to join Islamic State’s ranks in Syria, but added that they should join the mujahideen in the Philippines if they cannot get to Syria. The video stated that Islamic State has appointed a leader in the Philippines, Abdallah al-Filipini, to serve as its representative in the country. Philippine security officials have denied the presence of IS fighters in the country, but said that several radical groups based in the Philippines, such as Abu Sayyaf, have pledged allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the Islamic State’s self-appointed caliph. It is unlikely that Islamic State currently maintains a significant presence in the Philippines; however, the release of the video aimed specifically at recruiting fighters in the region indicates that this may change over time.
On 23 June, the United Kingdom narrowly voted to leave the European Union, 51.9% to 48.1%, with a 72% turnout. However, Scotland, Northern Ireland, London, Gibraltar and younger voters voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU. Following the result, the currency and stock markets fell heavily, with the pound dropping to a 31-year low at one point; $3 trillion was wiped off global equity markets in the biggest two-day loss ever; the United Kingdom lost its AAA credit rating; the prime minister, David Cameron, resigned; and elements within the opposition Labour Party are using the crisis to try and remove the party’s leader, Jeremy Corbyn. It is clear that many of those leading the Vote Leave campaign did not actually expect to win the referendum, and are now backpedalling over some of their more outlandish claims and promises; however, the working class grievances and right-wing anger that their campaign has stoked up are unlikely to disappear. Indeed, there has been a 57% increase in the number of hate crimes reported to the police hate crime reporting website since the referendum. Remainers hope that a vote in parliament or a second referendum may still stop Britain leaving the EU.
On 26 June, polls in Spain opened for a second general election after the election in December 2015 ended in deadlock with the four main parties unable to form a stable government. The conservative People’s Party (PP) won 137 seats, a 15-seat increase from the December election, but fell short of an overall majority. The People’s Party has overseen economic growth since 2011, but the left-wing UP rejects austerity and ran an emotional campaign. It is likely a broad-left coalition will form the next government. Without a coalition agreement, there will be further economic and political instability at a time when Europe is reeling from the unexpected result of the UK referendum on EU membership.
On 20 June, the Bahraini government revoked the citizenship of the prominent Shia cleric Sheikh Isa Qassim. The interior ministry claim this was due to the cleric’s promotion of sectarianism and violence as well as his serving of foreign interests. The government has also recently suspended the opposition political society Al Wefaq and extended its leader’s prison sentence, and arrested human rights activist Nabeel Rajab. These events have led to an increase in protests in the Sunni-led kingdom. The decision to revoke Qassim’s citizenship has led to criticism from human rights groups and concern from other governments that tensions may escalate on the island. Iran has warned Bahrain over the decision, seemingly suggesting that there could be armed resistance across the country in response. In turn, the Bahraini government accuses Iran of manipulating and influencing the Shia community in Bahrain. It is likely that protests and further clashes between security forces and predominantly Shia groups will continue for the foreseeable future.
In the second deadly attack this month, six members of Jordan’s security forces were killed and at least 14 others injured in a car bomb suicide attack on Jordan’s northeastern border with Syria, close to the Rukban refugee camp. The attack on 21 June was claimed by Islamic State (IS) a few days later. This is the first time the group has launched an attack on Jordanian territory. Jordan has now closed its northern and northeastern borders and declared the area a military zone. Approximately 50,000 refugees are understood to now be stuck between the Syrian and Jordanian borders as they await entry into Jordan, triggering concern over a potential humanitarian crisis now that aid to the camp has been reduced. The attack has exposed weaknesses in Jordan’s response to Islamic State, and it is therefore likely that strict restrictions on both people coming into Jordan and international aid deliveries to the refugee camps will remain in place.
On 15 June, 400 international scientists called on the US president, Barack Obama, to rule out an expansion of oil and gas exploration in the Arctic. It is estimated that the region holds 22% of the world’s oil and gas – much of it untapped. The open letter to Obama called on the United States to stop exploration in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas due to rising sea temperatures and increased melting of sea ice at levels that have shocked scientists. The United States is highly unlikely to cease exploration in the region, though it may take further precautions. Other Arctic countries are also likely to continue their explorations.
Prepared by Kirsten Winterman, Erin Decker, Matthew Clarke and Chris Abbott.
These weekly briefings are offered free of charge to nonprofits and concerned citizens. Governments and corporations using our political and security risk updates are asked to make a donation to Open Briefing.