MANPADS and Rising Terror Risks in Western Africa

By Rachel Ehrenfeld
Thursday, June 13th, 2013 @ 1:05PM

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New evidence that al-Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM) has been training to use Gadhafi’s SA-7 surface-to-air missiles (MANPADS) was discovered not by intelligence services, but by the AP An Arabic `Dummies Guide to MANPADS’, was found in an abandoned police station that served as a ‘Jihad Academy’ in Timbuktu, Mali.

The use of MANPADS by AQIM and its ilk has been feared since the fall of the Gadhafi regime in Libya. This latest discovery and growing jihadi activities in the Sahel raise the level of threat to energy installations in the region, oil and gas supply to Europe, and the economic and political stability of West African countries.

A sobering analysis is provided here by Meir Gershuni*

The continent of Africa, and in particular the countries south of Sahara, are center of wide scale activity for Israeli companies who have been acting at the area since the end of 50’s. The activity was first led by the Foreign Office, which in a very short time established tens of Israeli representation offices in African countries, and in this way laid the foundations for activity in the fields of agriculture, security and infrastructure development. Later on, more and more private companies from Israel entered Africa, and performed impressive projects in various areas. During the years the business relations had their ups and downs, influenced by political moves and events like the Six Day War and Yom Kippur War. Nevertheless, during the entire period a massive Israeli business presence was established in Africa in various fields. The present escalation in the level of terror threat and crime at the continent of Africa is a blinking red light considering the substantial risk requiring security arrangement against it. However, and since this is the situation, this is also an opportunity for Israeli security companies, specializing in management of risks of this type, to provide security solutions for each foreign organization intending to act in these countries in order to protect the well being of its personnel and safeguard its assets.

An impressive show of force of the radical Islamic organizations in Northern Africa took place last January, when 41 foreign hostages (citizens of USA, UK, Japan, Norway, Philippines, France, Malaysia and Romania) were kidnapped by Islamic extremists at the Amenas gas field near the Algieria-Libya border.   This event demonstrates the freedom of action that the terror organizations enjoy in that area as the result of lack of organized government and security systems, with an emphasis on countries like Mali and Libya. Also, in apparently more stable countries there is a growing trend towards terror activity. This is happening each day in Nigeria.

More than 230 foreign citizens have been kidnapped in the Delta area in Nigeria since January 2007. In the recent years there is an ever worsening trend, in kidnapping and bombing attacks using a variety of operational methods, focusing at the energy facilities (oil and gas). In addition to the repeated damage to the oil pipelines, the ships used by the maritime oil production facilities and oil rigs placed opposite the Delta are also prominent targets for terror acts.

Since January 2007 until June 2012 there were no less than 79 terror acts and bombing attempts in the Sahel area only. Nigeria is the greatest oil producer at the African continent, and it is also the prime example of security problems and the high level of threats against energy facilities located in the country.

But the main problem is not just the deteriorating security in Nigeria, but the absence of stability in Western Africa in general. Africa has served in recent years as a safe haven and operation base for activists who were trained in fighting at the tribal areas in Pakistan. As a result of the massive pressure on Al Qaeda in Afganistan-Pakistan, the substantial threats are not coming anymore from the “original” Al Qaeda, but from organizations identified with Al Qaeda and, in particular, the ones operating in Africa, such as the Islamic Maghreb Al Qaeda (AQIM),  El Shabaab in Somalia and the Nigerian organization El Bioko Haram, which have become a real threat to the African continent in general and tp the Sahel area in particular. The “production line” for the continent’s terror actors has been focused recently in Mali, which has become a “safe haven” for terror activists. It was not by chance that the French government decided on the Seval operation, aiming to crack down on the Al Qaeda nests in the country.

No country has felt the impact of the fall of Gadafi regime more substantially than Mali, which experienced in the past instability, coups d’état acts, revolts of the Tuareg  population and the influences of terror and crime organizations. During the last year Mali experienced all these problems simultaneously.

Focusing of the threat on oil and gas sector at the Sahel area

In the last decade a number of terror acts took place in various places worldwide against oil and gas industry. A representative sample:

In February 2002, a hell boat loaded with explosives crashes against the wall of the giant French oil container ship MV Limburg next to Yemen shores. As a result of the explosion one crewman was killed, others were wounded and 90,000 barrels of oil were spilled into the sea. The Al Qaeda organization took responsibility for the operation.

In February 2004, Osama Bin Laden encourages his soldiers to “concentrate actions against the oil facilities and in particular in Iraq and the Persian Gulf”. Trying to justify such a move, he explained that the U.S. is using the energy resources of the Arab countries for a ridiculous price.

In 2006, Al Qaeda tried to blow up a car bomb in Abqaiq, Saudi Arabia, one of the largest refineries in the world. The bombing attempt failed at the stage of breaking into the well protected site.

In the recent years the terror has spread against oil infrastructures, and it is no longer limited to the Gulf area and the Middle East. In 2007, Al Qaeda published a press message on its intention to attack interests and energy facilities of United States in other countries: “The oil facilities that the United States is enjoying, will be attacked in all areas [of the world], and not only in the Middle East”. The above implies Al Qaeda’s intention for attacking targets in Northern Africa and the Sahel area, where, since 2006, the organization has enjoyed local support of Al Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Before the establishment of this group, the GSPC organization was operating in this area, focusing on actions against Algerian oil facilities as the preferred targets. The organization executed a series of terror acts against workers and facilities of the oil companies Sonelgaz, Sonatrach and ENTP, operating in the south of Algeria. Tens of people were killed in these terror acts and extensive damage was caused to the oil producing facilities. However, none of these terror actions was similar to the spectacular terror bombing executed on January 16th, 2013, in the natural gas facility in Amenas in eastern Algeria.  At least 40 terrorists who entered Algeria from Libya and the north of Mali attacked two buses transporting workers from the natural gas field, and in parallel attacked and took control–actually quite easily, in the absence of a reasonable security force–of the gas facility, while taking hundreds of workers as hostages. After futile and unprofessional attempts to negotiate with the kidnappers, two actions of taking control and rescuing were executed by an elite unit of the Algerian army. The disastrous results of the operation were followed by much Western criticism. At least 39 hostages were killed and many others were wounded. The Algerian army killed most of the terrorists and caught 3 of them. According to a declaration of the terrorist organizations involved, the action was executed as an act of revenge against the French intervention on Mali.

Also in Nigeria, the greatest oil producing country in Africa, the terror threat has grown substantially since the beginning of French intervention in Mali, following support of the French military steps by the Abuja government.

The French intervention against Islamic groups in north of Mali–the area where the Islamic groups are strongly linked, ideologically and operationally, with Boko Haram–accelerates the extension of the terror threat to the countries in the south, where most of the Western oil facilities are located. In this context, I have to note the possibility that the Nigerian Islamist terror organizations may try to “market” their terror actions (kidnapping and acts against infrastructure) to local organizations located in the south, like the MEND (Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta). Even though there is no concrete evidence of such operative cooperation between the south and the north, Western organizations and companies in the region should take this into account.

Five terror groups are threatening at present the oil companies in the Sahel and Western Africa: Al Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), The Movement for Oneness and Jihad in Western Africa (MUJAO), the Nigerian Boko Haram and its separatist section Ansaru, and MEND  (Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta). Leaders of all these groups have declared their intention to harm Western interests in the area and, in particular, the workers and energy infrastructure of the oil companies, which are their main and preferred target.

On the 6th of April 2013 the MEND organization attacked a police ship the Delta. Twelve policemen were killed in the terror act. The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) took responsibility for the terror act, and threatened to continue its violence against the Nigerian government and the oil companies (mostly foreign) in the area.

The threat by MEND came as a reaction to the jailing for 24 years of its leader, Okah, by a South Africa court. The organization’s spokesman published a press announcement, according to which “All the oil companies and the public are asked to ignore the false feeling of security that the government is trying to sell…”

These terror attacks are causing critical disruptions to the oil industry, as expressed recently by the shutting down the Bonny oil pipeline, which was moving over 150,000 barrels per day (!!), following repeating sabotage actions on the pipeline . At the end of 2013 the Shell company also announced its intention to close the main Nigerian pipeline, the Nembe Creek Trunkline, for an unlimited period, following sabotage actions and oil stealing at unprecedented rates last year.

The leader of the organization was sentenced to 24 years of imprisonment in South Africa, following execution of two car bombings in the Nigerian capital Abuja and the killing of 10 persons. The organization was almost inactive following an agreement with the government that the leaders and many of the organization’s members will be granted amnesty (this is the reason the leader was sentenced in South Africa and not in Nigeria), and even generous payments in order to keep “industrial peace” (in both its meanings). In spite of the agreement, the organization admitted responsibility for sabotage action on the crude oil pipeline owned by the Italian national gas and oil company, ENI, last year.

The rising rate of sabotage and terror acts is undoubtedly a major problem for the international firms in Nigeria who are already forced to cope with oil theft on an industrial scale–one-fifth of the daily oil production: 2,000,000 barrels–is being stolen, worth about 1 billion dollars per month (!) according to the government estimates.

Although Nigeria “leads” in scope and severity of terror acts, other African countries are influenced by the acts of the terror organizations and Islamic groups in the Sahel.

It is known that most of the activity of the above groups is to establish local infrastructure in the neighboring countries and even more distant countries (e.g., South Africa). This includes countries like Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Guinea Conakry and Senegal, where AQIM and MUJAO are intensively active. Senegal, whose population is 90 percent Moslem, and in which the path to establishing dormant terror cells is quite short, is a prominent example.

In addition to the concrete threat of physical attacts on the daily activity of the energy companies in the area, oil and gas companies are expected to become more and more exposed to harassment via cyber. The threat in this realm is higher than in other business areas, since most, if not all, of all the operational systems of the Energy facilities are controlled remotely by computers. (Remember the cyber attack executed at the end of 2012 on the Saudi oil company Aramco).

This subject is worth a separate, dedicated discussion.

In summary, Western companies and in particular the companies active in the energy field, operating oil infrastructure (workers, production facilities, refineries, distribution points, maritime platforms, service ships, etc.) from Mauritania to Chad, Algeria and Nigeria, are all exposed to growing terror threats, which for quite a long time have not been limited only to the lawless Sahara area, but are in a process of accelerated expansion to the west and center of the African continent.

Kidnapping of the French family on the 19th of February 2013 at the border of Nigeria with Cameroon demonstrates the severity of the threat also in countries where until now the situation was relatively quiet.

The decision of the giant oil=producing companies to cancel or postpone business activity, such as BP’s announcement immediately after the Amenas terror act on immediately stopping their drilling operations in Libya, as well as the decision by Shell to stop the flow of oil in the main oil transport pipeline in Nigeria, are a sign of the companies’ recognition of the size of threat to their workers and facilities, implying also that they don’t have an adequate security answer to present threats.

It can be assumed with a high degree of certainty that in the near future the companies working in the area, and in particular the oil and gas companies, will be asked to increase their insurance and secondary insurance payments for energy projects, to pay higher bonus payments for foreign workers employed in dangerous areas and, in parallel, to improve the safety and security means, standards, and procedures in the various oil sites.

The increased terror and crime threats create a new economic and social reality, influencing the availability of resources abundant in Africa and needed by the whole world. As stated, this is a blinking red light indicating the threat of foreign actors wishing to operate in this area. Relieving these threats depends on the existence of effective intelligence and security arrangements that will be able to deter terrorists, thwart attempts at impairing human life and causing damage, while providing an effective answer to emergency situations. There is a particular unity of interests in joining together these two points. On one hand, there is an existential threat for companies and business organizations operating on the continent and, on the other hand, it is a business opportunity for security companies specializing in risk management and providing consulting services and guidance in establishment of suitable security arrangements.

*The author is a former Head of Division at the ISA, and at present Senior Vice President of the MAYDEX AG specializing in Energy infrastructure security planning and a Senior Lecturer in the School of Security and Emergency Management at the Wingate Academic College. This article was first published in May 4, 2013 at 14:00

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