Situation Report Threat Update

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The Editors

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Threat Update Situation Report

Authors

The Editors

Latest Edition

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The Critical Threats Project releases a weekly update and assessment on the al Qaeda network.

Key Takeaways:

  1. Al Houthi-Saleh forces conducted a small-boat suicide attack on a Saudi warship in the Red Sea, marking the use of a new asymmetric tactic.  Al Houthi-Saleh militants attacked a Saudi frigate near al Hudaydah port in the Red Sea on January 30.  The attack may have been intended for a U.S. vessel, according to U.S. defense officials. The al Houthi-Saleh faction last threatened  U.S. freedom of navigation in the Red Sea, a critical shipping lane, in October 2016, when militants fired missiles at the USS Mason. The use of suicide boats may indicate that al Houthi-Saleh missile capabilities are limited due to U.S. retaliatory actions following USS Mason attacks. Alternately, the suicide boat attack may be intended to generate an American or Saudi response against local traffickers and fisherman, which would increase popular backlash against the Saudi-led coalition campaign in western Yemen. Iranian support for the January 30 attack is possible but not confirmed. [Read more about Iranian involvement and al Houthi-Saleh attacks in the Red Sea. Stay up-to-date on Yemen with the latest Yemen Crisis Situation Report.]
  2. The Libyan National Army (LNA)’s battle for Benghazi, Libya’s second largest city, is culminating. The LNA is ascendant in eastern and central Libya, lowering the likelihood that LNA commander Field Marshall Haftar will participate in a negotiated settlement to end Libya’s civil war. It is bolstered by control of critical oil infrastructure and alleged Russian military support. The LNA will now prioritize the fight for Derna city, which is controlled by an Islamist coalition that includes al Qaeda associate Ansar al Sharia. The LNA’s military expansion drives moderate Islamist groups to cooperate with or support extremist actors, including Salafi-jihadi groups linked to al Qaeda. [See CTP’s latest “Fighting Forces in Libya” map for background.]
  3. Al Shabaab has momentum against the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). It is regaining territory in the Lower Shabelle region. Al Shabaab conducted a multi-phase attack to drive security forces out of Afgoi, a strategic location less than 20 miles away from Mogadishu, between January 19 and 24. Al Shabaab also continued a pattern of mass-casualty attacks targeting AMISOM bases. Militants conducted a high-casualty attack involving multiple vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs) on a Kenyan base at Kolbio town near the Kenyan-Somali border on January 27.  The Kolbio attack may signal the start of a campaign to raise the cost of Kenya’s involvement in Somalia in advance of Kenyan elections. [Read CTP’s assessment of al Shabaab’s territorial gains in central Somalia in late 2016.]