Al-Qaeda trying to regroup in Tunisia after Daesh setbacks: Sources

Last month, Tunisian special forces killed Bilel Kobi, a top aide to Abdelmalek Droukdel, better known as Abu Musab Abdul Wadud, an Al-Qaeda leader. (Reuters)
Updated 07 February 2018
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Al-Qaeda trying to regroup in Tunisia after Daesh setbacks: Sources

TUNIS/ALGIERS: The killing of a senior Algerian militant by special forces soon after he slipped into Tunisia has raised concern that Al-Qaeda is trying to regroup in the North African state as rival Daesh has suffered major setbacks, security sources say.
Last month, Tunisian special forces killed Bilel Kobi, a top aide to Abdelmalek Droukdel, better known as Abu Musab Abdul Wadud, the leader of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), in a mountainous region along the Tunisian-Algerian border.
Kobi was on an apparent mission to reunite splinter groups of Al-Qaeda fighters in Tunisia, putting the army on alert for more infiltrations, a senior Tunisian security source said.
AQIM was the dominant militant force in North Africa, staging several high-profile deadly attacks until 2013 when it fractured as many militants flocked to the more extremist Daesh as it seized territory in Iraq, Syria and Libya.
Daesh became a major recruiter for disaffected, often unemployed young men especially from Tunisia, where poverty has spread since the uprising that toppled Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali in 2011 and induced protracted turmoil.
But Daesh’s appeal has waned since it lost all its territorial strongholds in neighboring Libya as well as in Iraq and Syria to counter-offensives by security forces, with fighters returning home or looking for new causes to join.
That has prompted AQIM to try to lure new talent from among Daesh veterans, two Tunisian security sources told Reuters.
“Al-Qaeda wants to invest in a recent decline of Daesh to reorganize and re-emerge as it seeks to restructure especially in Algeria, Libya and Tunisia by naming new local leaders on the ground,” one of the security sources said.
Kobi was not the only senior militant sent to reorganize Al-Qaeda in Tunisia. Hamza Al-Nimr, an Algerian who joined Al-Qaeda in 2003, was dispatched to lead a cell in Tunisia but was killed with Kobi in the same operation, Tunisian security sources say.
Beefed up by Western countries, Tunisia’s security forces have managed to pre-empt any major attack since a Daesh militant shot dead 39 foreigners on a Mediterranean beach in June 2015, but authorities remain on alert.
In December, the UAE briefly banned Tunisian women from boarding flights to Dubai over a perceived terrorist threat.
Hundreds of Tunisians have joined militant groups abroad but it is unclear how many have returned as significant numbers of them were killed in Syria combat and elsewhere, officials say.
AQIM has remained active in North Africa’s largely desert and often scarcely governed Sahel region, such as in Mali where it focused its activities after Daesh emerged in force to the north in Libya and Tunisia.
AQIM’s Tunisian branch, called Okba Ibn Nafaa, is fractured into four groups based in the remote, northwestern Kasserine and Kef mountains region near Algeria.
Their command structure is dominated by Algerians while a rival group loosely associated with Daesh based in the same region is run by Tunisians, Tunisian security sources say.
Kobi, among others before, had been sent to bring the Al-Qaeda spinoff groupings back together, they said.
“Okba has dozens of fighters; each group is comprised of up to 20 terrorists,” one Tunisian source said.
Okba had targeted police and army forces, he said, unlike the Daesh focus on killing civilians, such as on the Sousse beach.
Tunisia is monitoring the border in close cooperation with Algeria, which prides itself in having prevented any attack since a veteran AQIM commander, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, claimed a strike on a desert natural gas plant in 2013.
There are indications of AQIM fighters trying to cross into Tunisia as Algeria’s army has cracked down on AQIM in the past two weeks, killing eight militants east of the capital Algiers and then the group's media chief a few days later.
“AQIM is in decline (in Algeria), it can’t restructure or redeploy here,” an Algerian security source said.
But a Tunisian security source said a regional AQIM commander remained in eastern Algeria intent on revamping the organization across North Africa, not just in Tunisia.


Anti-money-laundering body gives Iran until February to complete reforms

Updated 49 min 18 sec ago
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Anti-money-laundering body gives Iran until February to complete reforms

  • The Financial Action Task Force said it was disappointed that Tehran had acted on only nine out of 10 of its guidelines despite pledges to make the grade

PARIS: The international group that monitors money laundering worldwide said on Friday Iran had until February to complete reforms that would bring it into line with global norms or face consequences.
The Paris-based Financial Action Task Force said after a meeting of its members that it was disappointed that Tehran had acted on only nine out of 10 of its guidelines despite pledges to make the grade.
“We expect Iran to move swiftly to implement the commitments that it undertook at a high level so long ago,” said Marshall Billingslea, the US assistant Treasury Secretary for terrorist financing, after chairing an FATF meeting.
“In line with that, we expect that it will have adopted all of these measures by February. If by February 2019 Iran has not yet done so, then we will take further steps,” he said.
In the meantime, the FATF said it had decided to continue suspending counter-measures, which can go as far as limiting or even banning transactions with a country.
Iran’s parliament approved some new measures against funding terrorism earlier this month under pressure to adopt international standards. But FATF said that it could only consider fully enacted legislation.
Members of FATF had already given Tehran until this month to bring its laws against money-laundering and funding of terrorism up to its guidelines.
Otherwise, Iran risked being returned to a blacklist of non-compliant countries that makes foreign investors and banks reluctant to deal with it.
Britain, France and Germany are trying to keep some financial channels open to Iran after the US pulled out of a 2015 nuclear deal in May and re-imposed sanctions.
Analysts say that inclusion on the FATF’s blacklist could effectively make that all but impossible.