OPERATION HURRICANE EXODUS: MEND THREATENS CHEVRON PRODUCTION IN NIGERIA
Nigerian militants in the oil-rich Niger Delta have recently threatened American oil operations in that region as part of a larger campaign to bring Nigerian oil production to a halt by 2015.
According to the September 4 statement by the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND):
The facility in question, the Excravos Terminal and Tank Farm, is based at the mouth of the Escravos River (a tributary of the Niger) at the Bight of Benin. The plant represents Chevron’s main production facility in Nigeria and is a joint venture with the state-owned Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). Securing the Niger Delta oil industry from attacks or theft is a Herculean task – the field of pipelines covers an area of roughly 27,000 square miles (Bloomberg, March 6).
The selection of October 1 as the day attacks will begin is of significance to MEND as an organization as well as a warning of the seriousness of their intent. October 1 is Nigerian Independence Day and is the date in 2010 when two bombings claimed by MEND in the Nigerian capital Abuja killed 12 people and wounded scores of others. After the bombings, MEND leader Henry Okah attempted to take refuge in South Africa, but was instead detained and tried there, receiving a sentence of 24 years. Operation Hurricane Exodus (as mentioned in the September 4 statement) is the name of a campaign of sustained attacks launched by MEND on April 5 to punish Nigeria for providing what the movement alleged were forged documents used to help convict Okah (Guardian [Lagos], April 3). Days later, the movement claimed responsibility for the slaughter of 15 policemen in one of the creeks of Bayelsa State. The policemen had been providing security for the burial of the mother of a leading MEND militant (Business Day [Lagos], April 11; Sahara Reporters, April 23). Okah’s release and those of “other innocent people” convicted of the bombings are among MEND’s current demands.
The statement was signed by MEND “spokesman” Jomo Gbomo, a possibly fictitious persona used by MEND militants. Former MEND commander Reuben Wilson, now an advocate of the Nigerian government’s amnesty program, claims that “Jomo Gbomo” does not exist “as a human being,” but is rather a name he and others used for statements issued from the creeks of southern Nigeria (This Day [Lagos], September 11). With an estimated 30,000 former militants having taken advantage of the amnesty, including a number of senior commanders such as Wilson, MEND may now be in the hands of a younger generation of militants or criminals posing as ideologically motivated fighters in order to cloak extortion activities under the cover of environmental and social activism. It is possible that their ambition may exceed their experience and operational effectiveness, but MEND militants still hold a local advantage over security operatives in the labyrinthine creeks of the Niger Delta. MEND established that they still posed a firm threat despite the amnesties when some 225 militants in 15 boats raided the oil facilities in Atlas Cove in Lagos in July, well beyond their normal operating zone within the Niger Delta. Three naval personnel were killed and much of the facility destroyed by dynamite (Vanguard [Lagos], July 13).
MEND followed its threats against Chevron with a more conciliatory message on September 9, in which the organization said it was ready to “end activities of illegitimate oil merchants, pipeline vandalization and the unrest in the Niger Delta region when the reason we took up arms is addressed by a listening administration” (UPI, September 10).
Current oil losses to vandals and saboteurs amount to roughly 150,000 barrels per day in the Delta, a significant loss but greatly diminished from the losses endured during the height of MEND’s pre-amnesty activities, when production was reduced by nearly a third. Nigeria’s oil industry currently provides about 80 percent of the state’s budget. Rampant corruption in Nigeria means little of this revenue actually makes its way back to the Niger Delta communities that host the industry, encouraging extortion and oil theft as alternative revenue streams.
As the Egyptian military intensifies its campaign against militants and terrorists in the volatile but strategic Sinai Peninsula, their jihadist opponents have responded with a series of messages claiming the Army is using excessive force, destroying property and killing civilians. These statements of defiance have been backed up by several suicide attacks designed to dissuade Egypt’s security forces from pursuing the complete elimination of the various Salafi-Jihadi groups operating in the Sinai.
In a statement released on September 4, al-Salafiya al-Jihadiya fi Sinai disputed the reported arrests of al-Qaeda leaders in the Sinai, calling such reports “lies and silly fabrications” designed to “cover up the acts of treachery and betrayal committed by the Egyptian army blatantly and the crimes committed against the people of Sinai.”  The Salafist movement accused Egyptian authorities of borrowing methods used by the Israelis on the Palestinian population and acting under Israeli direction in targeting homes and mosques in the Sinai as well as demolishing other homes to create a buffer zone at the Rafah border point. The statement condemns in particular the shelling of the Abi Munir mosque in al-Muqata’a village (near the town of Shaykh Zuwayid). The movement says Egyptian troops fire indiscriminately, killing and wounding innocent parties, acts which make the Egyptian military “an assaulting apostate sect which should be deterred and repelled and this is what the mujahideen are doing every day with operations that are burning and breaking their forces.”
A September 11 statement by the Jama’at Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis militant group said the stated goal of the Egyptian Army in the Sinai, the liquidation of criminal and terrorist elements, was only a screen for its real purpose – the creation of a buffer zone “to protect Jews from any threats from militants in the Sinai and to prevent any strikes of the mujahideen against the Jews.”  The statement goes on to accuse the Egyptian Army of mounting its own campaign of terrorism and intimidation in the region through random shelling, arson, the destruction of wells, looting, indiscriminate fire and the repeated targeting of mosques without justification. All these acts are committed with the intention of serving “the interests of the Jews and to preserve their security.” The Egyptian Army has thus aligned itself with “the enemies of God and the enemies of Islam.”
A second communiqué issued by Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis on September 15 decried the “displacement and terrorism launched by the Egyptian Army on the people of the Sinai” and claimed that the Army had committed a massacre of seven named civilians (including four children under seven years-of-age) who were killed by shellfire or under the treads of one of the 30 tanks the movement says the Army used to attack their village on the morning of September 13.  The statement claims the attack’s objective was to prevent the mujahideen from attacking commercial centers in Israel from the Sinai and was carried out on the orders of the American Army. The movement promised a “painful response” to the Egyptian Army’s “criminality and apostasy.”
The Egyptian Army’s use of armor, Apache helicopters and 20,000 troops to strike alleged terrorist refuges in the Sinai marks the greatest Egyptian military concentration in the region since the 1973 Ramadan War with Israel. Though the campaign was initially stated to have the purpose of eliminating radical Salafist jihadi organizations in the Sinai, the Army has expanded its mandate to include daily raids on homes believed to belong to opponents of July’s military coup (Mubasher Misr, September 13). The campaign is expected to last six months.
In an unusual development, but one that reflects the growing security cooperation between Israel and the Egyptian military, a delegation of Israeli security officials arrived in Cairo on a private jet on September 11 to discuss security issues in the Sinai with their Egyptian counterparts (Arutz Sheva, September 12). A statement from the pro-Mursi National Alliance to Support Legitimacy said the meeting was intended to coordinate efforts with Israel to kill innocent civilians, destroy local agriculture, displace residents and demolish mosques, “just like the Israeli army in the occupied territories” (Egypt Independent, September 16).
The militants have attempted to fight back, offering armed resistance in the villages and a mix of car bombs and suicide bombs to disrupt the Army’s campaign. Roughly 50 soldiers and policemen have been killed in the Sinai since July.
- In a September 5 “martyrdom operation,” a bomb went off in Nasr City as Interior Minister Muhammad Ibrahim’s convoy passed, though Ibrahim, the intended target, survived (Ahram Online [Cairo], September 13). The group apologized to “Muslims in general and the relatives of the martyrs in particular” for its failure to kill Ibrahim, but promised further attacks would follow until this objective was achieved. The statement explained that the group was “working to establish the religion of Allah on Earth” while refusing to “take the road of pagan democracy.”
- On September 11, two car bombs targeted the military intelligence headquarters in Rafah and a nearby military checkpoint, killing six soldiers and the two suicide bombers. The attacks were claimed by Jund al-Islam (MENA/Ahram Online [Cairo], September 7; AFP, September 13).
- On September 16 a bus carrying Central Security Force conscripts was hit by either a roadside bomb or an RPG, injuring seven conscripts (Ahram Online, September 16).
Egyptian Army spokesman Colonel Ahmad Ali recently said the army had been surprised by the “sudden escalation in terrorist attacks” after the army took control of the country, though he denied the jihadists’ accusations the army had used excessive force in the campaign, remarking that if that was the case, “we would have finished terrorism off in 24 hours” (Daily News Egypt, September 15).
1. Al-Salafiya al-Jihadiya fi Sinai, “Lying Agents,” Fursan al-Balagh Media, September 4, 2013, http://ansar1.info/showthread.php?t=46874.
2. Jama’at Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, “The Egyptian Army – Criminality and Betrayal: Statement on the Extended Military Campaign against the People of the Sinai,” September 11, 2013, http://ansar1.info/showthread.php?t=46923.
3. Jama’at Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, “Second Statement on the Extended Military Campaign against the People of the Sinai,” September 15, http://ansar1.info/showthread.php?t=46962.
4. Jama’at Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, “Battle of Revenge for the Muslims of Egypt: Assassination Attempt of the Egyptian Interior Minister,” September 8, 2013, http://ansar1.info/showthread.php?t=46902.