Worldview Security Update – December 30, 2019
30-Dec-19

AUSTRALASIA

Australia (Security threat level – 2): As of 30 December 2019, bushfires continue to spread across Australia, with several emergency warnings issued for the states of Victoria and Tasmania. Authorities have issued 14 emergency warnings for Victoria state thus far — most of which are for locations concentrated in the East Gippsland area — and have advised approximately 40,000 people to evacuate ahead of “extreme danger,” although many have chosen to remain. In parts of Victoria under extreme threat, authorities advised individuals to shelter in place. In Tasmania, authorities have issued four emergency warnings, primarily in relation to fires near Pelham in the south and near Fingal in the northeast. Extreme winds resulting from a fire burning across the border of New South Wales and Victoria states caused two vehicles to roll over, resulting in the death of one firefighter and injuries to three others.

Fiji / South Pacific Islands (Security threat levels – 2 / 1): As of 0900 UTC on 30 December 2019, Tropical Storm Sarai was located approximately 815 km (505 mi) west-southwest of Niue, and was tracking east-southeastward at a speed of 22 kph (13 mph), according to the Joint Typhoon Warning Center. At that time, Sarai was generating maximum sustained winds of 92.6 kph with gusts of up to 120 kph. Sarai is currently expected to make landfall at Tonga’s Vava’u island group on 1 January. The cyclone is then expected to weaken and dissipate between Tonga and the Cook Islands.

On 28 December Sarai passed southeast of Fiji’s main island, Viti Levu. Fiji experienced 150 kph (93 mph) winds and heavy rain. The Fiji National Disaster Management Office stated that more than 2,500 people were in 70 evacuation centers across the country. One person was killed as a result of the cyclone.

From 27-28 December Fiji Airways and Fiji Link canceled more than 100 flights. By 29 December services had fully resumed at Nadi International Airport (NFFN/NAN) and Nausori International Airport (NFNA/SUV); however, flights to Kadavu Island and Kadavu Airport (NKFD/KDV) had not yet resumed.

EUROPE

France (Security threat level – 3): As of 30 December 2019, trade unions have entered the 26th consecutive day of strikes against a proposed pension reform. Although conditions have improved since the beginning of the strike, transportation disruptions continue across the country. National rail operator Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer Français (SNCF) announced that 50% of long-distance TGV trains are currently operating; however, suburban Transilien trains and Transport express regional (TER) trains continue to operate at 25% and 40% capacity, respectively. In Paris, the Réseau Express Régional (RER) continues to operate at a significantly reduced level, with most trains offering rush hour services between 0630-0930 local time (0530-0930 UTC) and 1630-1930 local time. Eurostar announced that it would also operate on a limited timetable until 3 January 2020.

On 28 December 2019, approximately 4,500 people gathered in Paris to participate in a protest against proposed pension reforms. Protesters marched from Gare du Nord station to the Place du Châtelet. Police officers fired tear gas near the Pompidou Centre after protesters set fire to trash cans, established barricades in the road and threw projectiles at police officers. Authorities arrested at least six people during the demonstration. Additional protests occurred throughout France, including in Bordeaux, Caen, Nancy and Toulouse.

MIDDLE EAST AND NORTH AFRICA

Iraq (Security threat level – 5): On 29 December 2019, rocket warning sirens were accidentally activated at Camp Taji, located about 30 km (19 mi) north of Baghdad, amid alleged reports that unidentified militants had fired an unspecified number of rockets at the base. U.S. officials publicly acknowledged that the sirens were activated accidentally and no attack had occurred at the base; no injuries were reported as a result of the incident.

Earlier on 29 December U.S. military aircraft launched a number of airstrikes against Kata’ib Hizballah (KH) — an Iranian proxy militia group — positions in Iraq and Syria. The strikes targeted three locations in western Iraq near al-Qa’im and two in eastern Syria near Abu Kamal, and included KH command and control facilities, as well as weapons storage facilities, used to plan and execute attacks against Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) coalition forces. At least 18 KH fighters were killed and more than 50 were injured in the airstrikes.

The U.S. operation came after an attack on 27 December, during which KH militants fired at least 30 rockets at the K-1 military base in the northern town of Kirkuk, which hosts OIR personnel. One American civilian contractor was killed and six soldiers — including four Americans — were injured. Following the 27 December attack, the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad evacuated an unspecified number of its personnel, although the embassy remains open and operational.

Analyst Comment: The false alarm at Camp Taji occurred as combat has escalated between U.S. forces in Iraq and Iranian proxy militia groups, and reflects the highly unstable security situation within the country. Organizations with personnel and assets in Iraq should continue to monitor the situation closely.

SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA

Mauritius (Security threat level – 1): According to the Joint Typhoon Warning Center, as of 0300 UTC on 30 December 2019, Tropical Cyclone Calvinia was located approximately 165 km (100 mi) east-southeast of the capital Port Louis, and was moving southwest at a speed of 10 kph (6 mph). At that time, Calvinia was generating maximum sustained winds of 65 kph, with gusts of up to 84 kph. Calvinia is expected to make landfall along Mauritius’ eastern coast near the village of Mahebourg during the afternoon hours on 30 December. The Mauritius Meteorological Service has issued a nationwide Class III cyclone warning, indicating that the storm could generate wind speeds of up to 120 kph. Authorities suspended flight operations at Port Louis’ Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam International Airport (FIMP/MRU) until further notice beginning at 1200 local time (0800 UTC) on 30 December. Additionally, Port Louis Harbor and local shops and businesses across the island remain closed ahead of the anticipated cyclone.

Somalia (Security threat level – 5): On 28 December 2019, unidentified militants detonated a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) at the Ex-control Junction Agfooye intersection in Mogadishu. The bomb — which exploded during rush hour — targeted a local tax collection center located near the junction. Latest reports indicated that the bombing killed at least 81 people, including 17 university students and two Turkish nationals. In addition, more than 149 people have been confirmed injured; the official death toll is likely to rise due to the high number of severely injured individuals. Turkish authorities have airlifted the most critically wounded individuals to Turkey for treatment. No group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack; however, al-Shabab, an al-Qaida linked militant group, has conducted similar attacks in Mogadishu in the past.

On 29 December 2019, the Somalian government and U.S. Africa Command conducted airstrikes against suspected al-Shabab militants in Qunyo Barrow, located approximately 285 km (180 mi) southwest of Mogadishu along the coast, and in Caliyoow Barrow, located approximately 180 km (110 mi) northwest of Mogadishu. Two suspected al-Shabab fighters were killed during the strikes.