Critical Threats Today
A regular summary of al Qaeda operations in Yemen and Africa as well as major events in Iran.
These are the major events from April 6 for Iran and for al Qaeda operations in Yemen and Africa. Please see the Iran News Roundup, the Gulf of Aden Security Review, and the weekly Threat Update for more details.
Iran's main conservative coalition showed signs of strain as it worked to select a single candidate to challenge President Hassan Rouhani in the May 19 presidential elections.
The Popular Front for the Islamic Revolution Forces selected Astan Quds Razavi Foundation Head and Assembly of Experts member Ebrahim Raisi, former Parliamentarian Alireza Zakani, former Parliamentarian Mehrdad Bazrpash, Tehran Mayor Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf, and Imam Khomeini Relief Foundation Head and ex-IRGC member Parviz Fattah as the five finalists in a vote on April 6. The Popular Front will select a final unity candidate at a later date. Candidates cannot run formally until they are approved by the Guardian Council. Ebrahim Raisi, who announced his candidacy on April 6, remains a frontrunner to represent the Popular Front. The Popular Front’s mechanism to overcome conservatives’ historic inability to unify, meanwhile, came under pressure. The mechanism requires those who are not selected to drop out of the race and support the unity candidate. The Popular Front removed former nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili from its list of semifinalists, citing Jalili’s rejection of the Front’s mechanism. It is unclear whether Jalili will run independently from the Popular Front.
Citations & Links
The Hadi government and Saudi-led coalition are empowering militias that will cause long-term instability in Taiz, Yemen’s third-largest city.
The Hadi government relies on militias like the al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)-affiliated Abu Abbas Brigade to fight the al Houthi-Saleh bloc for control of Taiz. Inter-militia violence often forces the Hadi government to choose between militant leaders and concentrate power in the hands of local warlords. This internecine fighting will increase as the al Houthi-Saleh bloc weakens in Taiz, setting condition for anti-al Houthi militias to fight each other for dominance. AQAP likely provides weapons and money to warlords in Taiz to build a local proxy force, extending AQAP’s influence beyond its historical safe haven in Yemen. (Recommended reading: Taiz: The Heart of Yemen’s Revolution)
Citations & Links
Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo declared war on al Shabaab in preparation for a new offensive against the militant group.
President Farmajo, who took office in February, responded forcefully to a wave of mass-casualty al Shabaab attacks in Mogadishu in recent months. He called Somalia a “war zone” and announced operations intended to secure the capital on April 6. He shuffled his top security staff and replaced the mayor of Mogadishu. The President also granted a 60-day window for al Shabaab militants to surrender and receive amnesty. This offensive coincides with the Trump administration’s decision to allow U.S. Africa Command to conduct offensive strikes against al Shabaab in Somalia.
Citations & Links
An al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) associate in the Sahel conducted its first attack on a Western target.
Jama'a Nusrat al Islam wa al Muslimeen (JNIM) militants killed one French soldier and wounded two others in an improvised explosive device (IED) and direct fire attack on a military vehicle in the Malian-Burkinabe border region. French forces support Malian and Burkinabe counterterrorism operations. JNIM has attacked Malian security targets in the past. (Related reading: Warning from the Sahel: Al Qaeda’s Resurgent Threat)