Landmines/Explosive Remnants of War and the War on Terrorism in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA)

by Ayman Sorour [ Protection of Armaments and Consequences ]

This article looks at the relationship between the existing landmine and explosive remnants of war1 problem in the Middle East and North Africa, and terrorist activities in the area by explaining the scope of the mine/ERW problem in the region; the huge availability of explosives for use in illegal activities, particularly terrorism; and the case of Algeria and Egypt being affected by recent terrorist acts.

The Middle East and North Africa region is affected by mines/ERW because of the many wars and conflicts this region witnessed since the 1940s through today. Historically and geographically, the mine/ERW problem began in MENA around the end of World War II in North Africa, and continued through the invasion of Iraq by Coalition Forces in 2003. In addition, a number of internal conflicts and wars have resulted in contamination. These internal conflicts have taken place in: Oman (1964-1975), Lebanon (1975-1990), Yemen (1994) and Algeria (1991-present). Securing borders and strategic locations are other reasons for existing mines in Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Libya, Tunisia, Syria, Yemen, Jordan and maybe other countries.

Tons of Explosives Available for Use

There are 15 affected countries and territories in MENA contaminated with millions of mines and ERW. Some of those countries have declared the numbers of mines and ERW in their lands, though others have not as they do not know how many remain. All affected countries, however, have projections based on estimated affected land and previous demining operations.

Regional projections vary greatly, totaling 52-66 million mines and ERW. The estimated contaminations of each country are as follows:

In Oman, Palestine and Western Sahara, the numbers of mines and ERW are unknown.

Given the fact that the aforementioned mines and ERW differ in type and composition, the amount of live explosives they contain differs, too. On average, we can estimate the live explosives at 0.25 grams (0.88 ounces) per item,2 which means the quantity of available live explosives in MENA is between 13,151 and 16,489 metric tons (16,229 U.S. tons). These explosives are not secured and cannot be secured due to the fact that the large part of lands where they are found not easily accessible for political reasons, as in Iraq, or because no survey has been completed, as in Algeria, Egypt and Libya.

The first question that may come to mind is: how easy is it to clear such mines and ERW, considering the very low level of practical experience of those who do it. The answer is that it is undoubtedly risky and dangerous work, but in some affected countries, mines and ERW can be found on the land's surface, like the way the Iraqi Army planted landmines in Kuwait. Previous munitions stores and abandoned arms caches, such as the many the Iraqi Army left behind after the initial Coalition Forces invasion in 2003, are also obvious locations. In other places, locals may have little experience to (help them clear mines and ERW. For instance, Polisario said mines it has are those it cleared from the Moroccan defensive walls built to divide Western Sahara between them and Morocco. Consequently, the possibility of mine and ERW clearance by a person with a very low level of experience is a reality.

Explosives for Free and Illegal Activities

It's not known when explosives from mines and ERW were first used in illegal activities, but it is not a recent occurrence. Explosives from mines and ERW have historically been used in fishing and mining operations, providing a cheap and easy method for both activities. Some Bedouins in remote areas use these explosives to secure their private properties from thieves or to secure their drug plants from others, including police forces.

Since 2003, explosives from mines and ERW have been used in terrorist acts in MENA. In Iraq, a 2003 attack against the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad resulted in the death of the U.N. envoy to Iraq and the death and injury of more than a dozen others. This terrorist attack was one of the biggest uses of that type of explosive; this use of explosives continues in Iraq. Similar terrorist acts occurred in Sinai, Egypt, in October 2004, July 2005 and in April 2006. The government admitted that explosives in those terrorist acts were taken from mines and ERW. Although the Algerian government did not announce the origin of explosives used by the two car bombers in April 2007 who attacked the government building and police station in Algiers, and a suicide car bomber in Lakhdaria (80 kilometres [50 miles] from Algiers), explosives may have come from mines/ERW. Recently in Yemen, the government warned the Al-Houthi group and its followers about using landmines in their ongoing conflict against government forces in the governorate of Sa'Ada in northern Yemen.

In all MENA countries, possession of explosives in any form or type without permission from the authority (the army or the police) is prohibited. Violation of such laws could cost the guilty person his life or require that he spend the rest of his life in jail. However, this appears not to be a deterrent to the violators.

The Case of Egypt

Egypt is affected by 21.6 million mines and ERW in the western area of the country because of WWII and the Israeli-Egyptian wars in Sinai and the Red Sea area. Because 75 to 80 percent of this number is ERW, explosives comprising those mines and ERW are estimated at 5,400 metric tons (5,315 U.S tons). Most affected areas in Egypt are not marked or fenced because old fences have been stolen or have disappeared due to either climate conditions or carelessness by officials; yet in most affected areas, local people, who in some areas are Bedouin, know quite well the affected or suspected areas. They gained this knowledge by living with mines and ERW for many years and from the many accidents that happened to their families or animals.

In October 2004, four explosions that targeted three tourist sites in Taba and Dahab in Sinai, 450 kilometres (280 miles) east of Cairo, resulted in the death and injury of more than 150 persons. In July 2005, two explosions targeted a tourist site and parking nearby in Sharm el-Sheikh, South Sinai, and resulted in the death and injury of more than 300 persons. In April 2006, five explosions, three of them targeting the tourist area of Dahab, Sinai, resulted in the death and injury of more than 100 persons. The two other explosions targeted the multinational force in the El-Goura area, although there were no casualties. According to the Egyptian Ministry of Interior, explosives used in these explosions were taken from mines and ERW in Sinai.

In 2006, there were many reports on the transfer and stockpiling of landmines and explosive remnants of war by individuals. In May 2006, a farmer in Ismailia, located 120 kilometers (75 miles) northwest of Cairo, found 210 pieces of unexploded ordnance and 4,000 bullets on his land while he was preparing it for cultivation. The same month, the police forces found 20 active landmines among packages of TNT in a cave in Risan Mountain on the Sinai Peninsula. In June 2006, police forces found pieces of unexploded ordnance–such as airdropped bombs, ordnance and artillery shells–in the Al-khutmiyah area. In October 2006, the police arrested a scrap dealer in Al-Arish city of North Sinai for possessing 64 landmines. The man said he used to clear landmines himself, remove the explosives and sell the metal from the landmines. The difficult experience Egypt has faced in Sinai from terrorist acts using explosives from mines and ERW, and the possible use of such explosives again, highlights the need to study the situation carefully.

The Case of Algeria

Algeria is affected by 2,783,555 mines and ERW on its borders with Tunisia in the east and Morocco in the west.2 This contamination results from the colonial era and ongoing fighting with terrorist groups, mainly the Salafist Group for Jihad, which recently joined Al-Qaeda and renamed itself "Al-Qaeda Organization in the Islamic Maghreb Countries." The estimated explosives in mines and ERW in Algeria amount to 696 metric tons (685 U.S. tons). Many affected areas in Algeria are not marked or fenced as old fences have been stolen or have disappeared either because of climate conditions or because of official carelessness. Terrorist groups in Algeria have used landmines and improvised explosives devices against security forces since the early 1990s. In August 2006, 31 military persons were injured because terrorist groups planted landmines and booby traps in the Boumhani forest in east El-Bouira governorate, East Algiers, when security forces were following them. In October 2006, three soldiers were killed and another 15 injured in a similar operation in Béjaïa governorate. In April 2007, two explosions, one of them targeting the government palace in Center Algiers and the other targeting a police station in East Algiers, resulted in the death and injury of more than 160 persons. In July 2007, an explosion targeting a military base in Al-Akhdaria area, Bouira governorate, resulted in the death and injury of more than 30 military personnel. Although authorities did not announce or confirm that explosives used in those acts came from mines or ERW, the fact that the terrorist group in Algeria is part of Al-Qaeda, which uses the same methods in Iraq, and that the source of explosives used is unknown, indicates a high possibility that recovered mine and ERW explosives were used.

Image 1
Algerian anti-personnel mines before being destroyed as part of stockpile destruction, Hasi Bahbah, South Algeria, May 2005. Photo courtesy of author

Additionally, the police arrested a small group of criminals with 188 French APID51 mines3 they had removed from old minefields to use in fishing. In July 2007, the police force of Tlemcen in West Algeria arrested a criminal group of eight for transferring and stockpiling anti-personnel mines. The criminal group would remove anti-personnel mines from the mined area of Ain-El-Safra, El-Na'ama governorate, and transfer them to the Salam Belashash area, near the border with Morocco, to remove TNT and then sell it. The authority arrested part of the group while they were transferring 100 APMs, and then found another 289 APMs cached in Ain-El-Safra.

Conclusion

Analyzing the similarities between terrorist attacks in Egypt and Algeria will clarify the connection between terrorist groups in both countries, reflected in these groups' usage of recovered landmines and ERW in suicide-bomber cars as well as a common membership in Al-Qaeda The huge amounts of explosives available from mines and ERW throughout MENA, and confirmed and suspected use in previous terrorist acts, should alarm us. Officials are encouraged to study such relations carefully and be ready to deal with them, particularly in the absence of any mine-action programs in these countries. Bullet

Biography

HeadshotAyman Sorour is the Executive Director of Protection of Armaments & Consequences (PROTECTION), an international NGO that focuses on banning arms that affect civilians during and after war, banning weapons of mass destruction, applying international law and international humanitarian law, and helping victims of arms in the Middle East and North Africa. He is also a Landmine Monitor researcher for North Africa and an International Campaign to Ban Landmines management committee member. He is a 2005 graduate of the United Nations Development Programme Senior Managers Course presented by the Mine Action Information Center at James Madison University. Sorour holds a Bachelor of Arts in law from Cairo University.

Contact Information

Ayman Sorour
Executive Director
Protection Against Armaments & Consequences
M.A.H.R.F
123 Bld de Strasbourg A4
94130 Nogent sur Marne / FRANCE

65 Nober St
Babelouk, Cairo / EGYPT
Tel: +33 14 877 42 75
Fax: +20 27 95 12 92
Mobile: +33 67 619 69 84
+20 12 323 90 33
Emails: lsce98@hotmail.com / amac98eg@yahoo.com

Endnotes

  1. This is based on using an average for the quantity of explosives found in most anti-personnel and anti-tank landmines.
  2. "Algeria," 2006 Landmine Monitor Report.http://www.icbl.org/lm/2006/algeria.
  3. For more information each of these munitions, see the Mine Action Information Center's "Munitions Reference." Available at http://maic.jmu.edu/journal/supplemental/munitions/search.asp. Accessed 29 November 2007

References

  1. "Algeria." 2006 Landmine Monitor Report. http://www.icbl.org/lm/2006/algeria.
  2. "Morocco." 2006 Landmine Monitor Report. http://www.icbl.org/lm/2006/morocco.
  3. "Western Sahara." 2006 Landmine Monitor Report. http://www.icbl.org/lm/2006/western_sahara.
  4. "Tunisia." 2006 Landmine Monitor Report. http://www.icbl.org/lm/2006/tunisia.
  5. "Libya." 20064 Landmine Monitor Report. http://www.icbl.org/lm/2006/libya.
  6. "Egypt." 2006 Landmine Monitor Report. http://www.icbl.org/lm/2006/egypt.
  7. "Yemen." 2006 Landmine Monitor Report. http://www.icbl.org/lm/2004/yemen.
  8. "Jordan." 2006 Landmine Monitor Report. http://www.icbl.org/lm/2006/jordan.
  9. "Lebanon." 2006 Landmine Monitor Report. http://www.icbl.org/lm/2006/lebanon.
  10. "Syria." 2006 Landmine Monitor Report. http://www.icbl.org/lm/2006/syria.
  11. "Iraq." 2006 Landmine Monitor Report. http://www.icbl.org/lm/2006/iraq.
  12. "Kuwait." 2006 Landmine Monitor Report. http://www.icbl.org/lm/2006/kuwait.
  13. "Iran." 2006 Landmine Monitor Report. http://www.icbl.org/lm/2006/iran.
  14. "Israel." 2006 Landmine Monitor Report. http://www.icbl.org/lm/2006/israel.
  15. "Palestine." 2006 Landmine Monitor Report. http://www.icbl.org/lm/2006/palestine.
  16. El Khabar, Algerian daily newspaper, 28 August 2006.
  17. Al Ahram, Egyptian daily newspaper, 18 October 2006.
  18. El Khabar, Algerian daily newspaper, 25 June 2007.
  19. El Khabar, Algerian daily newspaper, 5 July 2007.
  20. Liberte, Algerian daily newspaper, 31 March 2007.
  21. Al Ahram, Egyptian daily newspaper, 24 May 2006.
  22. Reuters (Cairo), 7 October 2006.
  23. Alakhbar, Egyptian daily newspaper, 7 May 2006.
  24. Alwafd, Egyptian daily newspaper, 22 June 2006.
  25. Alwafd, Egyptian daily newspaper, 5 October 2006.
  26. Egyptian Ministry of Interior Press Release, 23 May 2006
  27. On going survey by mine action and human rights foundation, Cairo-Egypt, on mine related activities.