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Worldview Weekly Security Update – 19 August – 22 August 2019

Monday 19 August 2019:

Afghanistan (Security threat level – 5): On 19 August 2019, at least 10 explosive devices detonated in several districts across Jalalabad, the capital of Nangarhar province. The explosions, which appeared coordinated, targeted several busy marketplaces and public squares where crowds had gathered for Independence Day celebrations. Security forces reportedly discovered and defused a number of additional explosive devices scattered throughout the city. According to a government official, at least 13 people were killed and 70 more were injured. While no group has claimed responsibility for the attacks, both the Taliban and a local affiliate of the Islamic State (IS) are known to conduct attacks in the area.

Afghanistan (Security threat level – 5) : At approximately 2240 local time (1810 UTC) on 17 August 2019, a suicide bomber detonated an explosives-laden vest at the Dubai City wedding hall in a predominately Shiite Hazara area of western Kabul. The assailant detonated in the middle of the hall as several attendees were dancing. Officials stated that at least 63 people were killed and 182 others were injured in the attack. A local affiliate of the Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility for the attack.

China (Security threat level – 3): Hundreds of thousands of anti-government protesters participated in demonstrations in Hong Kong over the weekend of 17-18 August 2019. On 18 August a pro-democracy rally in Causeway’s Victoria Park turned into a march to the city’s financial district. According to event organizers, approximately 1.7 million people participated in the protest; however, official police estimates set the number of protesters who gathered at Victoria Park at approximately 128,000 during the height of the event. Although vehicular traffic was interrupted in the vicinity of the protest venue, there were no reports of major disruptions or clashes between protesters and police officers. City officials had only granted permission to hold the rally in Victoria Park, but had not approved a march; however, the event turned into a march as additional protesters joined the demonstration.

Meanwhile, on 17 August pro-democracy and pro-government demonstrators staged protests in the city. In Admiralty, tens of thousands of pro-government protesters peacefully gathered in Tamar Park. Protest organizers claimed that approximately 476,000 people attended the event; however, police officers maintain that only about 108,000 people participated. Meanwhile, in Mong Kok, police officers cleared a group of pro-democracy protesters who reportedly threw eggs at the police station and pointed lasers at the officers. Despite the scuffles, police officers did not deploy tear gas to disperse the demonstrators and there were no reports of injuries. In a separate rally, thousands of people marched in west Kowloon to demand a cap on the number of tourists coming from mainland China to Hong Kong and to call on police officers to exercise restraint. Earlier in the day, thousands of teachers marched from Chater Garden to the Government House. The Professional Teachers’ Union estimated that at least 22,000 teachers were in attendance, while police authorities claimed that about 8,300 protesters participated in the march at the event’s peak. There were no reports of major disruptions.

India (Security threat level – 3): On 18 August 2019, Indian authorities reimposed movement restrictions in Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir state, following renewed clashes between protesters and security personnel overnight on 17-18 August. Residents in several parts of Srinagar — including Gojwara, Nowhetta, Rainawari and Soura — threw stones at police officers, who responded with tear gas, rubber bullets and pepper spray. One person was killed and at least 17 others were injured in the unrest. Authorities had relaxed travel restrictions earlier on 17 August; however, such restrictions have been reinstated following the violence. While landline telephone services have partially resumed, internet and cellphone services remain suspended.

Indonesia (Security threat level – 4): On 19 August 2019, hundreds of protesters gathered in Manokwari — the capital of West Papua province — to demonstrate against the recent arrest of 43 Papuan students in Surabaya, the provincial capital of East Java. The protesters burned tree branches and tires to block roads and set fire to the local parliament building and nearby structures. Police officers deployed tear gas to disperse the crowd. However, there were no reports of injuries or arrests. Local media sources also claimed that protesters entered Domine Eduard Osok Airport (WASS/SOQ) in Sorong — also located in West Papua province — and caused minor damage, but there were no reports of disruptions to airport operations. Security personnel secured the airport to prevent further unrest. In Jayapura — the capital of neighboring Papua province — at least 500 protesters staged a peaceful demonstration. Protests in Jayapura ended peacefully after the governor of Papua province appealed to the protesters to disperse. 

Syria (Security threat level – 5): On 19 August 2019, Syrian military aircraft conducted airstrikes against a Turkish military convoy near the town of Khan Sheikhoun, located in Idlib governorate, approximately 255 km (160 mi) north of the capital Damascus. While there were no reports of Turkish military casualties, three civilians were reportedly killed in the strikes. Turkish authorities stated that the convoy was headed to Turkish observation posts in the area, but Syrian officials contend the convoy was poised to reinforce Syrian rebels in Khan Sheikhoun. Turkish officials condemned the strikes, calling them a violation of the Russo-Turkish de-escalation agreement, and reports indicate the Turkish military has provided fighter aircraft escorts to the convoy in an effort to dissuade further attacks.

Analyst Comment: While Turkish and Syrian government forces are both active in Idlib, clashes of this type between the two parties are rare due to a de-escalation agreement between Turkey and Syrian government ally Russia. Entities with interests in Syria should monitor developments closely.
Myanmar (Security threat level – 4): On 19 August 2019, the U.S. Embassy in Yangon issued a Security Alert that reads in part as follows:

“Location: Eastern Mandalay Division and Northern Shan State, Burma

“Event: Fighting continues between the Burmese security forces and ethnic armed groups in eastern Mandalay Division and northern Shan State. Over the August 17-18 weekend, armed engagements spread northeast in Shan State, reaching areas northeast of Lashio. Many roads, railways, and bridges between townships in northern Shan State are closed. Commercial flights are available from Lashio airport to other parts of Burma. Some roads to Lashio are closed due to fighting.

“Actions to Take:

  • Do not travel along Highway 3 from Pyin Oo Lwin to Muse and along Highway 34 from Hseni to Hopang at this time due to armed fighting. U.S. Embassy personnel are still permitted to travel to the city of Lashio.
  • Read our current travel advisory at: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/traveladvisories/traveladvisories/burma-travel-advisory.html
  • If you are in northern Shan State, make contingency plans to leave, possibly via Lashio airport. If you are unable to travel due to fighting, shelter in place, maintain contact with local authorities for travel options, and call us at 01-536509 for assistance.
  • Monitor local media for updates.
  • Notify friends and family of your safety.”

Tuesday 20 August 2019:

Brazil (Security threat level – 3): At 0530 local time (0830 UTC) on 20 August 2019, a gunman hijacked a passenger bus on the Rio–Niterói Bridge, which links Niterói to downtown Rio de Janeiro over the Guanabara Bay. During the event, the hijacker — who allegedly self-identified as a police officer — took 37 passengers hostage, doused the bus with gasoline and threatened to set it alight. Police officials stated that the gunman did not make specific demands during negotiations. A military police sniper shot and killed the gunman to end the standoff at approximately 0930 local time. There were no reports of other casualties. Traffic along the bridge was paralyzed and commuters were forced to evacuate their vehicles as security personnel responded to the incident.

Democratic Republic Of The Congo (Security threat level – 5): Daily routine activities appear to be normalizing as of 20 August 2019, following unrest during a “ville morte” (dead city) strike in several towns in North Kivu province — including Beni, Butembo and Oicha — on the previous day. In Oicha, motorcycle taxi services have resumed and small shops have reopened; however, large commercial establishments remain closed. While information regarding the status of commercial activities in Butembo and Beni is not currently available, there are no indications that unrest is ongoing. On 19 August a majority of shops, banks and gas stations remained closed and motorcycle taxi services were largely suspended in the aforementioned locations in response to calls by “Véranda Mutsanga” — an activist group — to observe a strike to protest armed violence in the region, concerns over unrest and roadblocks.

Disruptive street demonstrations accompanied the ville morte in the three towns where the strike was observed. In Oicha, police officers used tear gas and live ammunition to disperse the protesters, who had erected barriers along a main road and burned the residence of a police officer. Three people were killed and several others were injured in the clashes. Meanwhile in Butembo, security personnel deployed tear gas and fired warning shots to disperse the protesters who burned tires and blocked roads, especially in the Bulengera commune. Police officers arrested a number of demonstrators, but no casualties were reported in Butembo. In Beni, demonstrators blocked roads throughout the town. Insecurity in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s northeast often prompts protest actions.

Wednesday 21 August 2019:

Cameroon (Security threat level – 4): Early on 21 August 2019, gunfire broke out across Bamenda, the capital of the Anglophone Northwest region, including along Commercial Avenue, and near Nkwen market and Bali Park. The majority of businesses and schools throughout the city are closed, and anecdotal reports indicate that many local residents are sheltering indoors. Thus far, there have been no reports of significant injuries. Additional police officers have been deployed to the city in response to the unrest.

The unrest in Bamenda follows the sentencing of Sisiku Ayuk Tabe, a prominent Anglophone separatist leader, to life in prison by a military court in the national capital Yaoundé on the previous day. Tabe is the leader of the Governing Council of Ambazonia, which is the governing body of the so-called Republic of Ambazonia, a desired independent region of the Anglophone separatist movement. The court also sentenced nine additional separatist leaders to life imprisonment on 20 August on a variety of charges, including terrorism, rebellion and hostility against the state.

Somalia (Security threat level – 5): On 20 August 2019, local officials in the southern Somali state of Jubbaland — a semi-autonomous region — announced that all roads leading to the state capital Kismayo will remain closed through 23 August. In addition to road closures, Kismayo Airport (HCMK/KMU) will also be closed through that date. Authorities are enacting the closures due to the scheduled 22 August polls to elect the president of the semi-autonomous region. In a statement, Jubbaland officials announced that the closures aim to prevent the Somali federal government from interfering in the polls. Tensions between the province and the central government are high, and Jubbaland officials accuse the Somali federal government of interfering in the election.

Thursday 22 August 2019: