As 2016 winds down into its final holidays, it would be nice to be able to wax on about how forces around the world had decided to take a breather...If you've been reading this column for any length of time, you should know better.
*POLICE in the city of Melbourne arrested seven members of an allegedly ISIL-aligned terror cell, later releasing two of those initially detained. The five men remaining in custody are described as 20-to-26 years old, "self-radicalized" Muslim citizens of Lebanese and Egyptian descent. The men were allegedly planning a wave of explosive and knife attacks at multiple targets around the city.
According to police, the group had no concrete ties to the Raqqa, Syria-based terror group, but had taken inspiration from the groups' online publications and radical teachings available online. This highlights yet further evidence that there may be something to the much-maligned, so-called "4th Generation Warfare" concept, after all.
*IN THE COUNTRY holding some 12.7% of the world's adherents to Islam, security officials are deploying extra security at airports, shopping malls and various other venues, in the wake of the Berlin Truck Attack (see below). Police cited the near-50% increase in traffic at shopping venues during the worldwide holiday season.
*This comes as an Indonesian Army soldier was killed in action during a firefight with the Daesh-aligned militants of the so-called East Indonesia Mujahideen (MIT) on the island of Sulawesi. Indonesian security forces have been hammering away at the group since it staged a series of attacks in downtown Jakarta in January of this year. The group is being slowly run to ground, having lost both its leader and most of its access to support.
*Meanwhile, the "Densus 88" counterterrorism unit remained busy, killing three suspected ISIL terrorists in a shootout during a raid on a suspected terrorist safe house in the Jakarta suburb of South Tangerang; fourteen more people were arrested. The operation netted an explosives factory for making suicide bomber vests and several explosive devices. Police indicated that holiday attacks were planned both within Jakarta, as well as outside the island of Java.
*Not helping matters, police in the small town of Ubud, on the popular tourist island of Bali recovered and defused a crude black powder device, described as a "firecracker", that had been placed outside an open-air food stall, apparently in a backpack with a sign on it, reading "BOMB". Police are searching for suspects, and are curious at the odd nature of the incident.
The motorcycle remains a favorite tool for guerillas and terrorists this week, as multiple attacks occurred throughout the archipelago. While some attacks are known as terror-related, others are clearly related to the bloody, ongoing anti-drug war of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.
*Further south, in the city of Mandaluyong, near the capitol of Manila, three were killed and two wounded in separate attacks. These appear to have been conducted by the same group of between four and ten assailants.
*On the eastern island province of Catanaduanes (struck by Typhoon Nina as this goes to press), journalist and local newspaper publisher Larry Que, 52, was murdered by an unknown assailant in the island's capitol of Virac. Que, who had previously run for mayor of Virac, had been critical of local government for it's inability to control the rising tide of methamphetamine production on the island.
*In the city of Bacolod, on the southern island province of Negros Occidental, two were killed and seven wounded in two separate attacks that occurred within minutes of each other. In both attacks, the shooters were identified as two people on a motorcycle, using a .45ACP handgun.
*Two people riding a motorcycle attempted a grenade attack on a police station in Zamboanga Del Norte, on the southern island of Mindanao, but the grenade failed to explode. Police are coordinating their investigation with the Philippine Army.
*Also on Mindanao, in the city of Midsayap, Cotabato, at least twelve people - including a police officer - were wounded when unknown assailants made a grenade attack on the Saint Nino Parish Church in Midsayap during Christmas Eve Mass. The Philippine Army's 34th Infantry Battalion immediately responded to the local police's request for aid, and are assisting with the investigation.
*In nearby Shariff Aguak, Maguindanao, an attempted IED attack on an army unit failed to cause casualties when it was detonated after the unit had passed the device on the road. No group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack.
*In the city of Koronadal, capitol of South Cotabato, Communist guerillas of the venerable New People's Army (NPA) staged their latest arson attack, this time on a tour bus. No injuries were reported among the passengers. The guerilla/terrorist force has destroyed around a dozen pieces of heavy equipment since beginning their latest offensive in November.
*Finally, for the Philippines, the Armed Forces of the Philippines' (AFP) Western Mindanao Command reported that they believed the four-man crew of the tuna fishing vessel "FB Ramona 2" may have been seized by Abu Sayyaf terrorists while fishing in the Celebes Sea, off the province of Sulu. The "Ramona 2's" sister ship, the FB "Melissa 2", discovered the deserted vessel after losing radio contact with her, and immediately reported the disappearance of the crew to the AFP. The missing fishermen are all from the town of Tukuran, Zamboanga del Sur.
*Two are dead, two more arrested, and security forces are searching for several other militants of the Jamaat ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh terror group. The dead, a woman and a teenager, killed themselves with suicide vests to avoid capture.
*Also in Jharkhand, Central Police Reserve Force (CPRF) units seized large caches of gel-based explosives and detonators in the Jhumra Foothills of Gomia, along with a separate cache that was being transported through the town of Kobad, in the Giridih district.
*In a somewhat bizarre twist of job hunting, word has gotten out that militant groups such as the National Socialist Council of Nagaland and the United Liberation Front of Assam have an open recruitment program for female nurses specializing in physiotherapy and traditional medicine. Prospective candidates are advised that the group's "maintain strict discipline" among their guerillas; there is no word on pay scales, however...While somewhat humorous, it should be noted that groups openly attempting to recruit medical personnel could well signal an impending uptick in offensive operations.
*In nearby Moreh, a pressure cooker bomb was exploded outside a police station complex, that caused no casualties. This follows a similar attack in the same area on the 15th, which killed five police officers and wounded nine more.
*Meanwhile, across the country in the long-disputed region of Jammu & Kashmir, an Indian Army enlisted man was wounded by a landmine along the Line of Control, near Poonch, Indian Army Engineers defused several unexploded 81mm mortar shells near Jammu.
*A POLICE CONSTABLE was killed in a grenade attack on a police checkpoint in the town of Mastung, some 50km (31mi) from the city of Quetta, capitol of Balochistan Province. Meanwhile, along the coast, Karachi police foiled a likely suicide attack on Karachi University, and arrested two other men accused of planning attacks in the city.
*Nearby, in Panjgur District, a hunting party led by Abu Dhabi's Prince Sheikh Saif bin Zayed Al Nahyan was attacked near the Tehsil of Gichk; although two of the party's vehicles were damaged, no casualties were reported. Frontier Corps officers and the prince's personal security detail drove the attackers off. The Baluch Liberation Front has claimed responsibility for the attack.
*Finally, in Saravan County (near the Pakistan-Iran border) an Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) officer was killed, and another soldier was wounded by a vehicle-borne-IED (VBIED). The Iranian armed forces have been conducting operations against Baluchi guerillas in the area, and these guerillas are believed to have detonated the bomb, and successfully escaped back into Pakistan.
*As many as eleven police officers were killed in Farah Province, during a Taliban attack on a checkpoint, on the 24th. Details remain sketchy, however, although Taliban spokesman Qari Yusouf Ahmadi claimed responsibility for the attack.
*Four employees of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) were kidnapped on the 20th, near the city of Kunduz. Three of the aid workers - all local Afghani's - were later released, but a Spanish aid worker remains held. Although no group has as yet claimed responsibility, local units of the Taliban have been conducting kidnappings to raise cash in recent weeks.
[Source 1] [Source 2] [Source 3] [Source 4] [Source 5]
As the civil war in Yemen continues, seven Pakistani sailors of the Iranian-flagged general cargo vessel MV JOUYA 8 (IMO-8844696) are reported dead or missing, following a "rocket attack" on the ship; one survivor is in the hospital after managing to swim to a nearby island, where he was rescued. The 699-dwt JOUYA 8 was in transit from Egypt to Dubai at the time of the attack. No mention was made of what type of weapon was used, but Houthi rebels are known to have fired anti-ship missiles at US Navy warships in recent months.
*Ashore, an Iranian officer and two Lebanese "engineers" working for the Houthi rebels were killed in an airstrike by Saudi Arabian-led coalition forces on the 21st.
*ISIL continued its offensive against Bashar al-Assad's Syrian Government forces in the city of Palmyra, attempting to overrun the massive T4 Airbase, and reportedly shooting down a Russian helicopter during the fierce fighting. The offensive, begun in early December to relieve pressure on the slowly collapsing ISIL perimeter in the northern city of Aleppo, has managed to gain ground, due to the uncertainty and confusion that has clouded Russian and Coalition air operations in the last six months. Syrian Government forces, however, have repelled repeated attacks on their perimeter at the T4 base for the moment, as they have pushed forward out of the city of Homs, and, further north, are attacking from Hama.
Turning to Europe, the biggest news was the 12/19 ramming attack into a Christmas market in the German capital of Berlin, which killed 12 and wounded 56. Clearly taking inspiration from the nearly-identical Bastille Day attack in Nice, France the suspected terrorist, Tunisian Anis Amri, appears to have "carjacked" the truck and murdered its driver before ramming it into the crowded market, and fleeing in the confusion. Amri was killed in a shootout with Italian police in the city of Milan on the 23rd, in which one Italian police officer was wounded.
Amri had apparently fled Tunisia, where he was sentenced 'in absentia' to five years in prison for "aggravated theft with violence". He had entered Italy in 2011 posing as a refugee, and had lied about his age at the time. According to his family, he was not particularly religious when he fled the country, but, they claim, was radicalized in Italian jails. Whatever the truth, the fact is that German security - for whatever reason - failed miserably in not detaining Amri sooner.
*German police arrested a suspect in the November, 2015 Paris terror attacks (which included the Bataclan Theater Massacre). A "Redouane S." was detained in Lower Saxony, and is accused of obtaining safe houses for the group that carried out the attacks.
*In the United Kingdom, four men remain in custody, following their arrest for an alleged plot to bomb Christmas shopping centers. Police reportedly recovered bomb-making materials during their raid.
*Finally for Europe, an arms dealer and his accomplice (whose names have not yet been released), both Slovenian nationals, were arrested in Ljubljana by the Slovenian National Police for selling illegal weapons and explosives through the so-called "Darknet", making their transactions in Bitcoin.
*Beginning in the southern part of the continent, a group claiming to be the venerable RENAMO anti-Communist guerillas of Mozambique seized the Inhazonia Open Prison in the Báruè District of Manica Province, in the country's extreme western region. RENAMO is a holdover from the 1970's. Founded by the Rhodesian Central Intelligence Organization in 1975, the group has managed to outlive its creators, and has continued to its war, although it is now little more than a well-organized bandit gang.
Democratic Republic of the Congo
*Once again, violence threatens to engulf the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as President Joseph Kabila's failure to hold elections ahead of the mandated end of his term as President has left the country in chaos, with ethnic Hutu and Nande militias in the extreme eastern region of the country beginning to engage in armed clashes, with the government paralyzed, as no one knows who - if anyone - is actually in charge of the country.The rising ethnic violence and political protests against Kabila have killed upwards of at least 100 people in the last week.
*AMISOM troops are hunting for a soldier who may have deserted his post in the southern Somali city of Qoryoley. Search parties tracked the missing soldier for approximately 3km (1.86mi), before losing his trail in the bushes. It is unknown why the soldier might have deserted his post; equally unclear is whether the soldier took his equipment with him.
*Forces from the autonomous Somali region of Puntland clashed with ISIL-aligned forces near the town of Qandala, killing five terrorists; one Puntland soldier was wounded in the clash.
Puntland declared itself to be an autonomous region in 1998, as a direct response to the continual chaos in the region following the start of the Somali Civil War in 1991. Although nominally still a part of Somalia, Puntland is effectively independent.
Central African Republic
*A new armed group has appeared in the northwest area of the Central African Republic (CAR). The group, formed in 2015, is known as "3R" ("Return, Reclamation, Rehabilitation"). Apparently spending most of the previous year building strength, the group launched a campaign in November of 2016 that has killed at least fifty people, led to at least as many rapes of women and girls, and has displaced up to 17,000. The group appears to be nominally Muslim, formed - in theory - to protect the mostly-Muslim Fula People following the anti-Muslim backlash by Christian groups in the CAR beginning in 2012, but appear to be little more than bandits.
*In the city of Maiduguri, one of a pair of female suicide bombers prematurely detonated her suicide vest when stopped at a roadside checkpoint, killing her and her accomplice; at least eight people were wounded. It is unknown if the girls were attempting to surrender or not.
*Meanwhile, across the border in the town of Mora, Cameroon, two males, suspected to have been Boko Haram terrorists, killed themselves with bombs at the entrance to a market in the town. No other injuries were reported.
*Finally for Africa, in Tunisia, security forces arrested five members of a suspected terrorist cell, including three young women, who purportedly specialized in recruiting young people to become jihadis via social media.
Compared to the rest of the world, the Americas were remarkably quiet this week. "Silent", is not too strong a word. Aside from the "new normal" of more or less daily violence involving drug cartels in Mexico, and a rash of bomb scares and hoaxes throughout the United States, the Americas suffered no terror or military attacks that made it into urgent reports, as of 12-25-2016, at 1920 hours, CST.
So - take that as a win.
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