Worldview Security Update – February 24, 2020
24-Feb-20

AMERICAS

Chile (Security threat level – 2): On 23 February 2020, violent clashes between police officers and anti-government activists overshadowed the opening night of an international music festival held at the resort city of Viña del Mar, located approximately 120 km (75 mi) west of the capital Santiago. A group of approximately 100 masked individuals set at least seven cars ablaze and vandalized shops at the O’Higgins Hotel, where many of the artists were staying. Riot police officers deployed water cannons at approximately 2000 local time (2300 UTC), and guests were temporarily evacuated from the hotel. At least 23 police officers were injured and authorities arrested 15 people during the episode.

Haiti (Security threat level – 4): At approximately 1200 local time (1700 UTC) on 23 February 2020, clashes broke out between Haitian army personnel and hundreds of protesters and off-duty police officers on the Rue Champ de Mars outside the Presidential Palace and army headquarters building in the capital Port-au-Prince. The demonstrators had gathered to protest the government of President Jovenel Moïse and to call for improved working conditions for the police force. As tensions escalated, a gunbattle broke out between security forces and the protesting police officers that lasted several hours. Soldiers stationed outside the army headquarters complex first opened fire, while government officials blamed the protesters for instigating the violence. As clashes spread across the city, demonstrators erected roadblocks and set fire to a number of nearby vehicles, disrupting transportation and increasing the response time of emergency medical personnel throughout the city. At least two people were killed and at least 13 others were wounded during the clashes.

Following the clashes, the Haitian government issued a statement formally canceling all Carnival festivities in an effort to avoid further escalation of violence; the three-day nationwide celebration was to officially begin on 23 February.

ASIA

China / South Korea / Italy / Iran / Afghanistan / Bahrain / Kuwait / Iraq (Security threat levels – 3 / 2 / 3 / 3 / 5 / 3 / 2 / 5) : As of 24 February 2020, approximately 79,520 confirmed cases of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) have been reported worldwide, with 77,150 of those cases in China. At least 2,625 deaths have been attributed to the virus, with at least 20 occurring outside of mainland China. Over the weekend of 22-23 February the number of cases increased significantly in South Korea, Iran and Italy. The first cases of COVID-19 also emerged in Afghanistan, Bahrain, Kuwait and Iraq.

In South Korea, the number of cases rose to 833, the highest number outside China. Most infections are clustered in the city of Daegu, likely connected to an outbreak at a local church. In response, Asiana Airlines and Korean Air suspended flights to the city for at least one month. On 23 February President Moon Jae-in raised the country’s infectious disease alert level to its highest classification, Level 4, and announced new emergency measures, including citywide lockdowns and mandatory quarantines, to contain the spread of the virus.

In Italy, approximately 215 cases of COVID-19 have been reported, with the most concentrated outbreak occurring in the northern regions of Lombardy and Veneto. Italy has the most confirmed cases of the virus in Europe. Authorities have since locked down several northern towns to prevent the virus from spreading. All public events are suspended, and primary schools and universities have canceled classes until the end of February. Thus far, at least four people have died from the virus.

In Iran, there are 43 confirmed cases with at least eight deaths. The latest increase is significant, as the country announced its first cases on 19 February. Additionally, the first cases of the virus in Afghanistan, Bahrain, Kuwait and Iraq have been reportedly connected to travelers from Iran. In response to the developments, the governments of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq, Turkey, Pakistan and Afghanistan have imposed restrictions on travel to and from Iran.

On 22 February the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its advisories for Japan and South Korea to “Alert – Level 2, Practice Enhanced Precautions.” Additionally, the U.S. Department of State updated the Travel Advisories for Japan and South Korea to “Level 2: Exercise Increased Caution.” The full text of the advisory for Japan can be found here , and for South Korea can be found here .

India (Security threat level – 3): On 24 February 2020, clashes between protesters and police officers continued for a second consecutive day in the capital New Delhi. Police officers deployed tear gas and used baton charges to disperse the protesters. The most significant clashes occurred in New Delhi’s Jaffrabad, Maujpur, Chandabagh and Bhajanpura districts. At least one police officer was killed and six people were injured in the clashes.

Demonstrations initially began on 23 February to protest against the implementation of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). Demonstrators gathered throughout the northern state of Uttar Pradesh and New Delhi. The largest and most violent demonstration occurred in the city of Aligrah, where clashes occurred after protesters threw stones at security forces and vandalized several vehicles and buildings. Police officers deployed tear gas to subdue the riots. An unspecified number of protesters and police officers were injured in the clashes. Following the clashes, internet services were suspended in Aligarh from 1800 to midnight local time (1230 to 1830 UTC).

In New Delhi, at least 200 women were staging a sit-in at the Jaffrabad Metro station when other protesters joined and barricaded themselves inside the station on the morning of 23 February. Metro operations were briefly suspended at the Jaffrabad Metro station while police officers negotiated with the protesters. Elsewhere in the city, police officers deployed tear gas to disperse pro- and anti-CAA protesters after clashes broke out between the two groups in the Maujpaur neighborhood; however, there were no reports of casualties.

EUROPE

Spain (Security threat level – 3): As of 24 February 2020, all airports on the Canary Islands have resumed operations at reduced capacity following strong winds and a sandstorm from the Sahara Desert. Over the weekend of 22-23 February, officials closed all eight airports on the Spanish archipelago, including Gran Canaria Airport (GCLP/LPA) and Tenerife South Airport (GCTS/TFS), as wind gusts of up to 120 kph (75 mph) were recorded across the islands. At least 822 flights were canceled or delayed during the storm. Officials warned travelers to continue to monitor the status of their flights, as further disruptions are likely to occur.

MIDDLE EAST AND NORTH AFRICA

Iraq (Security threat level – 5): On 22 February 2020, a series of seven improvised explosive device (IED) explosions occurred in the capital Baghdad amid anti-government protests. The explosions occurred in the Al-Ma’alaf, al-Shaab, al-Habibiya, al-Shu’la, Abu-Dashir, al-Mashtal, and al-Za’faraniya neighborhoods, and injured at least 15 people, but there were no reports of fatalities. No group claimed responsibility for the attacks; however, a similar series of attacks took place on 8 February when four IEDs exploded and injured at least 10 people throughout Baghdad.

Turkey / Iran (Security threat levels – 4 / 3): At 1930 local time (1600 UTC) on 23 February 2020, a 6.0 magnitude earthquake struck near the Iran-Turkey border, approximately 45 km (25 mi) west of Khowy, Iran, and about 90 km east of Van, Turkey, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). The quake registered at an estimated depth of 10 km. Moderate shaking was experienced across a number of towns in northwestern Iran, southern Azerbaijan and eastern Turkey. The quake followed a 5.7 magnitude earthquake that occurred in the same area earlier in the day at approximately 0900 local time. The initial earthquake caused damage to at least 43 villages in Iran’s West Azerbaijan province and injured at least 75 people; in Turkey, at least nine people were killed and 37 others were injured in Van province. However, there were no reports of significant casualties in Azerbaijan.

SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA

Ethiopia (Security threat level – 4): On 23 February 2020, a suspected bombing took place during a political rally in support of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in the town of Ambo — located in the West Shewa Zone of Oromia Regional State, approximately 110 km (70 mi) west of the capital Addis Ababa. Nearly 30 people suffered minor injuries as a result of the explosion. Authorities arrested six suspects, but have not confirmed their involvement in the attack. Although a motive for the attack remains unclear, Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) fighters have perpetrated similar small-scale bombings and other politically motivated attacks in the past.

Analyst Comment: Tensions between Ethiopia’s ethnic groups have historically been high, and continue to be a source of violent unrest throughout the country, particularly in Oromia Regional State. An uptick in political tensions is expected — with a potential for large-scale protests and sporadic instances of violence and unrest — in the lead-up to the country’s parliamentary elections scheduled for August 2020. Prime Minister Ahmed — who did not attend the 23 February rally in Ambo — is expected to launch his campaign for reelection in May 2020.

Togo (Security threat level – 4): On 23 February 2020, the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) issued the provisional results of the presidential election held the previous day, declaring incumbent President Faure Gnassingbé the winner. According to the results, Gnassingbé secured approximately 72% of the vote, while runner-up candidate and former Prime Minister Agbéyomé Kodjo received 18% and key opposition leader Jean-Pierre Fabre came in third place with only 4%. In a statement, Kodjo rejected the results as illegitimate due to allegations of widespread electoral fraud — including fake polling locations and ballot stuffing — and declared himself the legitimate victor. Soldiers reportedly surrounded the former prime minister’s house for approximately three hours at the end of the voting period after initial vote counting suggested he was in the lead. The soldiers claimed that they were stationed around Kodjo’s house as a precaution after receiving reports that he was at risk of an unspecified attack. Election results are likely to be contested in court in the near future, and election-related violent unrest remains a potential concern in Togo in the immediate term.

GOVERNMENT WARNINGS

Mali (Security threat level – 5): On 23 February 2020, the U.S Embassy in Bamako issued a Security Alert, which reads in part as follows: “The U.S. Embassy has received information about a possible attack in Koulikoro on 2/23 or 2/24. The Embassy has cancelled all travel outside of Bamako for Embassy staff on 2/24. U.S. citizens are strongly advised to avoid Koulikoro area on Monday, February 24.”

Mexico (Security threat level – 4): On 23 February 2020, the U.S. Consulate General in Matamoros issued a Security Alert, which reads in part as follows:

“Location: Matamoros, Mexico

“Event:  At approximately 1:30 a.m., on Sunday, February 23, 2020, an unexploded hand grenade was found in the vicinity of Matamoros City Hall, about one mile south of the U.S. Consulate General Matamoros. Due to this event and the recent shooting of a member of the Mexican military on Thursday, February 20, 2020, U.S. government personnel are advised against attending public events and large gatherings.”