On 12th January, the United States’ Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated five alleged leaders of al-Qaida, one of whom – Muhammad Abbatay, better known as Abd al-Rahman al-Maghrebi – is a Moroccan national, who is said to be based in Iran. It has offered a reward of up to USD 7m for information leading to his “location or identification”.
Al-Maghrebi is the son-in-law of al-Qaida’s leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, and was reportedly a member of the “Hamburg Cell”, which committed the September 11th terrorist attacks in 2001. Prior to his supposed relocation to Iran, he is believed to have served as al-Qaida’s general manager in Afghanistan and Pakistan for several years. He has also been named as the head of the group’s external communications office, as well as the deputy head of its media committee.
Elsewhere, the State Department amended the designation of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’s Sinai Province (ISIL-SP) to reflect its additional aliases on 14th January. As part of the same action, it also reviewed and maintained the designation of Jama’atu Ansarul Muslimina Fi Biladis-Sudan (Ansaru); the former Boko Haram faction which reportedly has ties with al-Qaida.
The Council of the European Union delisted four and amended two entries in its Tunisia sanctions list on 22nd January. Removed from the list are: Bouthaina Trabelsi, a niece of Leïla Ben Ali, the widow of former president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali; Nabil Trabelsi, a brother-in-law of the former president; and Akrem Bouaouina and Slim Ben Ali, both nephews of the former president. However, another nephew – Montassar Ltaief – and Ben Ali’s sister-in-law – Samira Trabelsi – remain subject to sanctions for the time being.
As part of the same action, the EU renewed its sanctions regime on Tunisia for another 12 months, with a new expiry date of 31st January 2022. It comes against the backdrop of its “misappropriation” regimes – including the sanctions against Ben Ali’s family – being weakened by court rulings and a lack of legal progress in Tunisia.
In October 2020, the Court of Justice condemned the framework through which Slim Ben Ali’s funds were frozen, thus forcing the council’s hand in unfreezing his assets. Elsewhere, the 10-year freeze imposed by the Swiss government on the family’s assets in that country expired on 19th January. However, a secondary freeze imposed by judicial authorities means that the vast majority of these assets will not be released.
OFAC amended the listing of Harakat Sawa’d Misr (the Hasm Movement) by upgrading its designation from Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) to Foreign Terrorist Organization. It also added two of its leaders – Yahya al-Sayyid Ibrahim Musa and Alaa Ali Ali Mohammed al-Samahi – who have both been designated as SDGTs by the State Department. The pair are believed to be based in Turkey.
Hasm has claimed responsibility for a number of attacks inside Egypt, including an attempt to kill the former Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa and an explosion at the Myanmar embassy. It was also blamed for a car bomb that killed over 20 people outside a Cairo hospital in 2019. The group was first designated by the United Kingdom in December 2017 and the US in January 2018.
On its last full day in office, the administration of President Donald Trump imposed visa restrictions against (as yet unnamed) Tanzanian officials who it claims “subverted” the October 2020 general election in the country. Citing “widespread voting irregularities”, the State Department urged the Tanzanian government to “reverse course” and “hold accountable those responsible for the flawed election, violence, and intimidation”.
The election, held on 28th October, saw incumbent President John Magufuli re-elected by a “landslide” victory; however, the opposition have raised doubts about the poll’s legitimacy, citing fraud and irregularities.
Democratic Republic of the Congo
During the final days of the Trump administration, the US Treasury “quietly” eased sanctions on Dan Gertler, the controversial Israeli billionaire with mining interests in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). On 15th January, OFAC issued a licence – which expires on 31st January 2022 – unblocking his assets and allowing him to conduct business with US entities, while consideration is made with regards to a formal removal of the sanctions altogether.
A spokesman for new treasury secretary Janet Yellen did not indicate whether the move would be reversed under the Biden administration. Gertler was sanctioned by the US in December 2017 under the Global Magnitsky regime, on the grounds that he had allegedly benefited from his friendship with former Congolese president Joseph Kabila.
Elsewhere, the UK’s Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation (OFSI) amended the listings of several entries in its DRC sanctions list. These took place within the space of a few days, with nine amended on 19th January, an additional 15 on 20th January, and a further six on 21st January. All of those concerned remain subject to an asset freeze.
Central African Republic
It emerged that an International Criminal Court (ICC) warrant had been issued in January 2019 for the arrest of Mahamat Said Abdel Kani, a former commander of the Séléka rebel alliance in the Central African Republic (CAR). This came to light last month when authorities in the CAR surrendered him on 24th January to the ICC, where he is now in custody.
The rebels seized power from then-president François Bozizé in March 2013. It is during this time that Kani is accused of committing war crimes in Bangui. He is thought to have joined the rebels in 2012, before rising to the rank of commander. He becomes the first Séléka suspect to face charges at the ICC.
Earlier in the month, OFSI amended four entries in its CAR sanctions list on 21st January. The minor changes updated details held on the targets – including Joseph Kony, the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army – who all remain subject to UK sanctions.
US Travel Bans
On his first day in office, President Joe Biden revoked the Trump-era executive orders and proclamations that constituted the so-called “Muslim travel ban”, which limited entry to the US from certain countries. The main piece of presidential action that was undone was Executive Order 13780.
EO 13780 had been revised several times during the previous administration through Proclamations 9645, 9723 and 9983. Prior to last month’s revocations by President Biden, the related travel bans affected certain categories of traveller from Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Eritrea, Nigeria, and Tanzania.
As part of a wider action targeting the Venezuelan oil sector, OFAC designated four African-flagged vessels that are operated or managed by Fides Ship Management LLC. This company is a maritime entity based in Ukraine that was targeted for allegedly transporting Venezuelan oil and, therefore, facilitating the regime’s sanctions evasion efforts.
The vessels in question are: The Baliar, which sails under the flag of Liberia; and the Balita, Domani and Freedom, which sail under the flag of Cameroon.
OFSI amended four entries in its Libya sanctions list on 19th January. Two days later, it amended an additional seven listings. These minor administrative adjustments do not affect the status of any of the asset freezes that are currently in place.
On 21st January, OFSI made minor amendments to one entry in its South Sudan sanctions list. The target – Paul Malong Awan, the South Sudanese army’s former chief of general staff – remains subject to UK sanctions as a result of this action.