Worldview Security Update – December 31, 2019
31-Dec-19

MIDDLE EAST AND NORTH AFRICA

Iraq (Security threat level – 5): As of 1700 local time (1400 UTC) on 31 December 2019, hundreds of protesters — many of whom are supporters of the Iranian-sponsored militia group Kataeb Hizballah (KH) — are currently occupying the U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad, located in the city’s International Zone. Latest reports indicate that demonstrators breached the outer wall of the compound and then set fire to a reception area and three trailers, as well as vandalized the main gate and several of the facility’s security cameras. Iraqi security forces, along with embassy guards, responded to the scene and attempted to disperse the crowd with tear gas; there were also unconfirmed reports of gunfire coming from within the compound. Although initial reports indicated that embassy officials had evacuated in response to the unrest, the most recent reports suggest that the compound is on lockdown, with an unknown number of U.S. embassy personnel sheltering in place within a safe room. A spokesperson for the KH militia group alleges that at least 20 demonstrators have been injured thus far, but there are currently no reports of fatalities.

Demonstrators gathered outside the U.S. Embassy in protest of U.S. airstrikes against KH militant positions on 29 December, which killed at least 25 militants. The airstrikes were allegedly a response to the group’s attack on a U.S. military base on 27 December, which killed a U.S. contractor and wounded four U.S. soldiers.

Analyst Comment: The attack on the embassy represents a significant escalation by Iranian proxy groups in Iraq and indicates that the Iranian-linked threat to U.S. nationals in Iraq has increased significantly. Further anti-U.S. demonstrations are likely, as well as the likelihood of protest-related violence and Iranian-linked attacks against U.S. personnel and assets in Iraq.

SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA

Mauritius (Security threat level – 1): As of 0300 UTC on 31 December 2019, Tropical Cyclone Calvinia was located approximately 135 km (85 mi) south-southeast of the capital Port Louis, and was moving southwest at a speed of 6 kph (4 mph). At that time, Calvinia was generating maximum sustained winds of 111 kph, with gusts of up to 139 kph. The storm is forecast to track away from Mauritius, and at 1010 local time (0610 UTC) on 31 December authorities lifted the Class III cyclone warning that had been issued the previous day. Flight operations have resumed at Port Louis’ Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam International Airport (FIMP/MRU); however, knock-on disruptions are possible through 31 December, and airport officials have advised passengers to confirm their travel plans before arriving at the airport. Although there were no reports of significant damage or casualties as Calvinia approached the island’s eastern coast on 30 December, the Mauritius Meteorological Service has advised the public that strong winds, heavy rainfall and localized coastal flooding are possible through 31 December.

GOVERNMENT WARNINGS

China (Security threat level – 3): On 31 December 2019, the U.S. Consulate General Hong Kong and Macau issued a Demonstration Alert that reads in part as follows:

“Locations:

  • Hong Kong Island
  • Kowloon
  • New Territories
  • Hong Kong International Airport
  • Hong Kong Transit Systems
  • Hong Kong Shopping Malls
  • Hong Kong Higher Education Facilities

"Events:

“On Tuesday, December 31 at 5:00 p.m., media report a gathering to build a Lennon Wall in Tsuen Wan. At 6:00 p.m., media report various protests at shopping malls in Causeway Bay, Kowloon Station, and Tsim Sha Tsui. At 7:00 p.m., media report protesters plan to form human chains near different MTR lines. At 8:00 p.m., protesters plan to rally at the Prince Edward Station to commemorate four months since the “831 Prince Edward Station Terror Attack”. Media report at 10:00 p.m. protesters plan to gather at Victoria Harbour, Lan Kwai Fong, the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, and the West Kowloon Cultural Centre.

“On Wednesday, January 1 at 2:00 p.m. the Civil Human Rights Front March “Remember Our Promises, We Stand as One” will take place from Victoria Park in Causeway Bay to Chater Garden in Central.

“This list is not necessarily exhaustive; protests at other times and locations may also occur. Any protests that take place without a permit are considered illegal.

“Protests are likely to disrupt transportation across Hong Kong. MTR stations can be closed and other transportation options can be cancelled on short notice. Over the past few months, some MTR stations have been closed for extended periods of time and the MTR network has closed earlier than usual.

“Since June 2019, large scale and smaller political demonstrations have taken place in various areas of Hong Kong, including MTR stations, shopping malls, universities, and at Hong Kong International Airport. While many demonstrations have been peaceful, some have resulted in violent confrontations between protesters and police – or between protesters and people who oppose the demonstrations – leading to serious injuries. Police have used a variety of crowd control measures, including tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets, and water cannons. Some protesters have lit fires, built barricades, and thrown Molotov cocktails (petrol bombs). Police have identified and seized weapons and explosive materials linked to ongoing protest activity. On October 4, the government invoked the Emergency Regulations Ordinance to ban face masks at public gatherings. Any protests that take place without a permit are considered illegal.

“Protests, which can take place with little or no notice at any time of the week, are likely to continue and are often accompanied by vandalism and/or violence.”

Montenegro (Security threat level – 2): On 30 December 2019, the U.S. Embassy in Podgorica issued a Demonstration Alert, which reads in part as follows:

“Location: Montenegro, Podgorica

“During the upcoming new year’s and Orthodox holidays, demonstrations against a newly enacted religious freedom law may take place at anytime and anywhere in Montenegro without prior announcement. We as a result expect random road closures and a significant police presence in Podgorica and elsewhere. While the vast majority of protestors will likely remain peaceful, there is potential for confrontation and even violence during this time of the year.”

Mozambique (Security threat level – 3): On 30 December 2019, the U.K. Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) issued updated travel advice for Mozambique, which reads in part as follows: “Cabo Delgado Province was affected by heavy rains and flooding in late December 2019. Heavy rains are expected to continue in the first half of January 2020, affecting northern and central Mozambique. The Mozambican Disaster Management Agency has issued a country-wide alert. Monitor local reports, check your routes before travelling and follow the advice of local authorities. You can monitor local and international weather updates from the World Meteorological Organization . ”