Posts tagged ‘Mali’
French Hostage Released.
A Frenchman kidnapped by Islamist terrorists in North Africa more than three years ago has been freed, the French government announced today (December 9).
Details of the release of Serge Lazarevic were not disclosed but French officials have insisted that no ransom is paid or prisoners released in exchange for any French hostages. At one time 14 French citizens were being held by terrorists in Africa. A Malian security source told AFP that Lazarevic was released at Kidal in northern Mali.
French President Francois Hollande said there are “no more French hostages in any country in the world.” Another, Phillipe Verdon, who was abducted with Lazarevic in 2011 by al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, was killed last year in retaliation for France’s military intervention in Mali to halt a revolt by Islamic extremists and nomadic Tuaregs.
While authorities denied or wouldn’t comment on reports that ransom was paid, a retired French anti-terrorism judge, Alain Marsaud, was more frank. He told France’s RTL radio: “There is no reease if there is no payment. Someone paid, if not the government, a business or insurance company.
A Malian newspaper and two sources, requesting anonymity, told Reuters that several Islamist-linked militants held in Mali were freed.
A Dutch tourist, Sjaak Rijke, kidnapped in Timbuktu in November 2011, has not been seen or heard from since he appeared alongside Lazarevic in a November AQIM video, the BBC reported.
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The World Health Organization reports new cases of Ebola are still rising in West Africa, with Sierra Leone overtaking Liberia with the highest number of cases.
Data published Monday (December 8) by the WHO shows Sierra Leone has recorded 7,798 cases of the deadly virus, making it the country with the fastest growing infection rate, according to the Voice of America website. Meanwhile, infection rates are dropping in Liberia, which now has just over 7,700 cases – but Liberia still has more Ebola deaths than any other country: a little more than 3,100.
Overall, Ebola has infected 18,000 people in Africa and killed 6,346. The vast majority of those cases have been in Liberia, Sierra Leone and neighboring Guinea.
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International Court Drops Kenyatta Charges.
The International Criminal Court has dropped its case against Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta for alleged crimes against humanity.
The prosecution withdrew the charges Wednesday (December 5) against Kenyatta, citing a lack of evidence. But there were also allegations that because the Kenyan government did not cooperate with the international court’s investigation, the case was unable to proceed, according to the Voice of America website.
The ICC’s lead prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, said there was not enough evidence to prove the charges against Kenyatta beyond a reasonable doubt. Bensouda said Kenya’s government failed to provide key documents to the prosecution, which undermined her investigations and “had a severe, adverse impact” on the case. She also said she reserved the right to file charges again if more evidence becomes available.
Kenyatta was charged for his alleged role — before he was president — in the ethnic violence that followed the 2007 Kenyan elections. More than 1,000 were killed and a half million more were displaced by the violence, which prosecutors claimed Kenyatta and his deputy president, William Ruto, incited.
After the ICC dropped the case, Kenyatta – son of Kenya’s founding father Jomo Kenyatta — called it a “travesty” adding that he felt vindicated, the BBC reported. In the Hague, prosecutors accused the Kenyan government of refusing to hand over evidence vital to the case and said officials in Nairobi had intimidated potential witnesses.
AROUND AFRICA: U.S. Ebola Response, Nigeria College Attacked, U.N. Peacekeepers Killed in Mali UPDATE
UPDATES Ebola Roundup with aid pledge from Canada, Sierra Leone shutting down for three days and report of health workers and journalists found dead in Guinea.
The death toll from the Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa has gone over 2,600, according to the World Health Organization.
At least 2,630 people have died and at least 5,357 people have been infected, the WHO said Thursday (September 18), according to Reuters.
In an update on the epidemic, which is raging through Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia – and has spread to Senegal and Nigeria, the U.N. health agency said there were no signs of the outbreak slowing, said Reuters.
Several Western governments – criticized for not doing enough — have stepped up their assistance in fighting the fast-moving virus, for which there is no known cure.
President Barack Obama says the United States will send 3,000 military personnel to West Africa where they will erect new treatment and isolation facilities, train health care workers and increase communications and transportation support, according to The Associated Press.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the 3,000 troops would not provide direct care to Ebola patients, the AP reported. A substantial number will be stationed at an intermediate base in Senegal, Earnest said, with others at locations in Liberia where they will provide logistical, training, engineering and other support.
Obama said the Ebola outbreak is now an epidemic “of the likes that we have not seen before. It is spiraling out of control … The reality is that this epidemic is going to get worse before it gets better,” Obama said during a visit to the National Centers for Disease Control (CDC) where he consulted with health officials about the U.S. response to Ebola. “Right now, the world has the responsibility to act – to step up, and to do more. The United States of America intends to do more,” Obama added.
France says it will set up a military hospital in West Africa as part of its contribution to the fight against Ebola. President Francois Hollande said Thursday (September 18) that the facility will be set up “in the forests of Guinea, in the heart of the outbreak,” according to Reuters.
Earlier this week, Canada said it will donate $2.5 million worth of the specialized medical gear used to protect health-care workers who are treating Ebola patients, The Canadian Press reported.
In a bid to reduce its Ebola infection rate, Sierra Leone will “close down” the country for three days beginning Friday (September 19), according to information minister Alpha Kanu.
Current figures show there are 1,400 cases of the Ebola disease in Sierra Leone, according to Kanu, the Voice of America reported. Sierra Leone is one of three hard-hit Western African nations being overwhelmed by the rapidly spreading deadly virus.
Meanwhile, the BBC reports officials in Guinea searching for a team of health workers and journalists who went missing while trying to raise awareness of Ebola have found several bodies.
A spokesman for Guinea’s government said the bodies included those of three journalists in the team. The group was reported missing after being attacked Tuesday (September 16) in a village near the southern city of Nzerekore.
On Thursday night, a Guinea government spokesman, Albert Damantang Camara, said eight bodies had been found, including those of three journalists.
He said they had been recovered from the septic tank of a primary school in the village, adding that the victims had been “killed in cold blood by the villagers”.
The reason for the killings is unclear, but correspondents say many people in the region distrust health officials and have refused to co-operate with authorities, fearing that a diagnosis means certain death, the BBC said. Last month, riots erupted on rumors that medics who were disinfecting a market were contaminating people.
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Nigeria College Attack
Gunmen have attacked a teacher training college in the northern Nigerian city of Kano, and officials say at least 15 people have been killed, the BBC reports. Another 34 people were injured in the Wednesday (September 17) attack.
The gunmen exchanged fire with police outside the college before running inside. While it is not clear who was responsible for the attack, the BBC said, suspicion will fall on the militant Islamist group Boko Haram, which has been waging an insurgency in Nigeria since 2009. The group which wants to set up a separate Islamic state in Africa’s most populous country has already killed 2,000 people this year and kidnapped hundreds of high school-age schoolgirls.
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The United Nations mission in Mali says five of its peacekeepers from Chad were killed and another three wounded when their vehicle was hit by an explosive device in the north of the country on Thursday (September 18).
The attack brings the number of U.N. peacekeepers killed in the country this month to 10, according to Reuters. The U.N. mission, known as MINUSMA, said the blast happened between the desert towns of Aguelhok and Tessalit, in the Kidal region of the Wester African nation.
MINUSMA was deployed last year to help stabilize Mali following a three-pronged crisis which began with a Tuareg separatist uprising, followed by a military coup in the southern capital and a nine-month occupation in the north by al Qaeda-linked Islamist militants.
The militants were chased out by a French-led intervention, but pockets of insurgents remain in Mali’s vast desert north from where they have launched attacks on the U.N. peacekeepers.
Before heading home from the U.S.-Africa Business Forum that ended Wednesday (August 6), President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita of Mali spoke at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank.
Keita told an overflow crowd at CSIS Thursday (August 7) that international intervention – especially military logistics — had helped bring his country back from the brink following a 2012 military coup and rebellion in Mali’s northern deserts by nomadic Tuaregs and radical Islamist militants. But the threat to Mali, the region and the world isn’t over, Keita warned. “We’re at a strategic nexus. This is a completely lawless region,” Keita said, according to simultaneous translation of his remarks given in French.
Compounding the problem in the north — an area bigger than Texas — a flow of heavy weapons out of neighboring Libya, and Tuareg mercenaries who know how to use them, after the fall of Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi in 2011.
For more on Keita’s talk at CSIS, see an UPDATE to yesterday’s AROUND AFRICA blog posting.
Libya appears to be sliding into anarchy as a raging fire, touched off by a missile strike, has closed the main airport and 61 people have been reported killed in just the last 24 hours, according to the Voice of America. VoA noted the death toll stands at 150 in two weeks of clashes across the North African country.
Two rival brigades of former rebels fighting for control of Tripoli International Airport have been pounding each other’s positions with rockets, artillery fire and cannons for two week — turning the south side of Libya’s capital into a battlefield, Reuters reported. On Sunday (July 27) a rocket struck and ignited a huge jet fuel storage tank — forcing closure of the airport as several foreign embassies have been evacuating their diplomatic personnel and hundreds of foreign nationals are trying to flee the country on Africa’s Mediterranean coast. The airport fire raged out of control Monday (July 28) and Libya’s interim government sought international assistance.
The violence, which has been escalating and spreading since Libyan strongman Muammar Qadaffi was deposed and killed three years ago, has prompted the U.S. Embassy to move the diplomatic staff out of Tripoli to Tunisia. The United Nations and Turkey have moved their diplomats out as well. According to the Pentagon, all embassy personnel were relocated, including the Marine security guards, by ground vehicle on Saturday (July 26) without incident. During the exodus F-16 fighter jets and MV-22 Osprey tilt rotor aircraft (carrying an Airborne Response Force) and unspecified intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) assets provided security.
Nearly 100 people have been killed by ongoing clashes at the airport since early July and scores more have been killed recently in Benghazi — where government forces clashed with Islamic militants — and in Tripoli, where rival militias are fighting.
At least eight foreign governments (Britain, Egypt, France, Germany, Spain, Turkey and the United States) are urging their citizens to leave Libya immediately. Libya’s neighbors and Western security analysts worry that the chaos will spread beyond Libya’s borders — and create a a safe haven for terrorists close to Europe. Already, many of the heavy weapons — like man-portable rocket launchers and truck mounted machine guns — have disappeared from Qadaffi’s armories and spread across North Africa.
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The wife of Deputy Prime Minister Amadou Ali was abducted in the northern Cameroonian town of Kolofata. A local religious leader, who was the town’s mayor, was also abducted in a separate attack. At least three people were killed in the raids.
Boko Haram has been increasing cross-border incursions into Cameroon in recent weeks and the West African country has deployed troops to the region bordering Nigeria. Officials said the attack on the vice prime minister’s house was the third in Cameroon since Friday (July 25). At least four soldiers were killed in previous attacks. About 22 suspected Boko Haram militants, in custody since March, were sentenced to prison terms ranging from 10-to-20 years in Maroua, Cameroon on Friday (July 25). It’s not known if the attacks are related to that. Militants have kidnapped foreign nationals in northern Cameroon before, including a French family and Chinese workers.
Meanwhile, at least five people were killed by a bomb in northern Nigeria and locals suspect Boko Haram is responsible. Nigerian police say the five victims were killed when a bomb was thrown at worshippers as they were leaving a church in Nigeria’s main northern city of Kano on Sunday (July 27, the BBC reported. A young female suicide bomber also wounded five police officers as she rushed towards them and blew herself up in a separate incident, they added
Boko Haram has been waging a five year terror war against the Nigerian government, Western influence and Christians in largely Muslim northeast Nigeria. The group’s name, in the Hausa language of northern Nigeria, has been translated to mean either “Western education is forbidden” or “Western education is false or fraudulent.” The concept stems from British attempts during the colonial era to force a unified education curriculum for Nigerian children that by-passed traditional Muslim schools in the rural north. Boko Haram wants to carve out an Islamic state in northern Nigeria under strict sharia law.
Last week, Cameroon, Nigeria, Chad and Niger agreed to form a 2,800-strong regional force to tackle Boko Haram. Efforts to step up regional co-operation gathered momentum after Boko Haram abducted more than 200 girls from a boarding school in north-eastern Nigeria. The Nigeria government of President Goodluck Jonathan — who faces re-election this year — of doing too little, too late to find and rescue the girls.
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Ebola Threat Spreads
As the death toll from the Ebola epidemic continues to rise, the New York Times reports that panicked villagers in Guinea are blocking and even attacking international aid workers, fearing that it is the doctors who spread the deadly virus.
Workers and officials, blamed by panicked populations for spreading the virus, have been threatened with knives, stones and machetes, their vehicles sometimes surrounded by hostile mobs. Log barriers across narrow dirt roads block medical teams from reaching villages where the virus is suspected. Sick and dead villagers, cut off from help, are infecting others, according to a piece written by the Times’ Adam Nossiter.
Liberia, one of the affected countries, has closed most of its border crossings and communities hit by the epidemic face quarantine in an effort to halt the outbreak, deemed the deadliest by the United Nations. Screening centers are also being set up at the few major entry points that will remain open, such as the main airport, according to the BBC.
Meanwhile, Nigeria largest’s airline, Arik Air, has suspended all flights to Liberia and Sierra Leone after a man with Ebola flew to Nigeria last week and later died.
Two US aid workers are also being treated for Ebola in Liberia, including Dr Kent Brantly, who was the medical director at one of the country’s two treatment centres run by the group, Samaritan’s Purse. The other American, Nancy Writebol, works for the Serving in Mission (SIM) as part of the same team, BBC said.
On Saturday (July 26), one of Liberia’s most prominent health officials treating Ebola patients at the country’s largest hospital, Dr. Samuel Brisbane, died after contracting the disease, according to The Independent. A Ugandan doctor working in Liberia also died earlier this month, while last week the virus infected Sheikh Umar Khan, Sierra Leone’s chief Ebola doctor
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Air Algerie Crash
French officials are citing poor weather as the most likely cause of the crash of an Air Algerie flight over Mali in northwest Africa with 118 people on board.
Investigators at the scene of the crash in northern Mali concluded the airliner broke apart when it hit the ground, officials said, suggesting it was unlikely to have been the victim of an attack. But French authorities are not ruling out other causes, including terrorism, without a full investigation, the Associated Press reported.
The MD-83 twin engine jet liner — bound for Algiers, Algeria — disappeared less than an hour after takeoff from Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso. Following on the heels of the shootdown of a Malaysian Airlines jet over Ukraine and the mysterious disappearance of another Malaysian jet bound for Beijing earlier this year the Algerian plane’s disappearance sparked concerns about a hijacking or a surface-to-air missile attack. Yhe area where the plane crashed was a conflict zone a year ago when nomadic Touregs and Islamic extremists launched a rebellion against Mali’s government and seizied half the country. French, Malina and Dutch troops from the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Mali secured the crash site. The plane’s black boxes have been recovered and will be studied for clues to what caused the plane to crash.
U.N. Troops to C.A.R.
The United Nations Security Council voted Thursday (April 10) to send 12,000 troops to quel violence and resore order in the strife-torn Central African Republic (C.A.R.).
Thousands have been killed and more than a million people are in need of aid following an explosion of sectarian violence after Muslim-led , Seleka rebels seized power a year ago and overthrew the government of President Francois Bozize – who had been in power for a decade. In a backlash, predominantly Christian anti-balaka militia members targeted Muslim civilians for revenge and attacked positions held by the mainly Muslim rebels.
U.N. Chief Ban Ki-Moon has warned of “ethno-religious cleansing” in C.A.R., with lynchings, decapitations and sexual violence going unpublished, the BBC reported. The C.A.R. Is rich in gold, diamonds and other natural resources but most people remain poor after decades of unrest and government mismanagement.
The U.N. Force will take over on September 15 from the 6,000-strong African-led peacekeeping mission. The Africans and about 2,000 French troops have been hard-pressed to halt the killing in the former French colony, according to the Voice of America.
The African troops will continue their military activities in the lead-up to the official transfer date in September. After being vetted, VOA reported, many of those troops will also be kep on as blue-helmeted U.N. Peacekeepers and join the new U.N. Mission, which will go by the acronym, MINUSCA.
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The government of the West African nation of Cameroon has announced it will mount a special polio Vaccin campaign for all children after haf a dozen cases were identified. There are fears that children fleeing dangerous situations – such as terrorist violence in Nigeria – are spreading the disease, according to the Voice of America website.
Nigeria is one of a few nations around the world which have not eradicated polio.
Cameroon’s Minister of Health Andre Mama Fouda said officials in his country thought they could declare the Cameroon polio free, but they detected four cases of the wild polio virus in the western part of the country. Three other cases were also identifed – indicating virus is spreading.
Some of the cases were reported in children fleeing northeast Nigeria – where Boko Haram Islamic militants have been committing random acts of violence.
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Meanwhile at least three West African countries are reporting cases of the deadly ebola virus.
Guinea has reported 157 ebola cases, with 101 leading to death. Almost half of the 21 cases reported in Liberia have proven fatal. In Mali, nine suspected cases have been reported. Both Liberia and Mali share a border with Guinea.
A World health Organization official said the U.N. Agency expects ebola will engage its staff for months, according to the euronews website.“”This is one of the most challenging outbreaks that we have ever faced,” said Dr. Keiji Fukuda of the WHO. And that’s because “we see a wide geographic dispersion of cases. So this has come in from a number of districts as well as a large city in Guinea, Conakry,” the capital, Fukuda added.
Eyes in the Sky Needed
The head of U.S. Africa Command said Thursday (March 6) that he is woefully short of intelligence-gathering assets like unmanned aircraft to monitor the vast, troubled stretches of North West Africa.
Gen. David Rodriguez told the Senate Armed Services Committee that only 11 percent of his command’s intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) needs were being met – but that was up from just 7 percent last year.
Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, the senior Republican on the panel, said he found those numbers “pretty troubling.” He noted that when violence broke out in South Sudan last December, ISR assets had to be pulled away from helping African and U.S. Special Operations troops track down the murderous renegade rebel group known as the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Headed by indicted war criminal Joseph Kony, the LRA has for decades murdered and plundered its way across Central Africa, kidnapping children to be used as soldiers or sex slaves.
There are two unmanned surveillance drones and about 100 U.S. Air Force personnel to operate and maintain them based in Niger to help French and African peacekeepers restore order after a military coup fueled a revolt by nomadic Tuaregs that morphed into a takeover by Islamic extremists. More drones reportedly fly out of the U.S. military’s one African base, Camp Lemonnier, in Djibouti to monitor Sudan, Somalia and other flash points around the Horn of Africa.
Rodriquez told the Senate panel that the biggest intelligence gap he faced ranged from northern Mali to eastern Libya at the northern end of the continent. The Army general said he needed Joint STARS surveillance aircraft and remotely piloted air vehicles [drones] “to cover that vast range.”
At he start of the hearing, to explore the needs of AFRICOM and U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), Committee Chairman Sen. Carl Levin, said ISR assets were “a particular area of focus” for the panel this year since the Pentagon decided to reduce its capacity for round-the-clock unmanned combat air patrols because of budget constraints.
In his written testimony for the hearing, Rodriguez said his command was “making significant progress” in expanding collaboration and information-sharing with African and European partners to reduce threats and increase stability in a region threatened by violent extremist organizations..
While AFRICOM can mitigate immediate threats and crises like violent extremist organizations like al Qaeda-affiliated al Shabaab in Somalia, long term solutions will hinge on development of “effective and democratic partner nation security institutions and professional [armed] forces that respect civil authority.
He noted that Africa will be “increasingly important to the United States in the future.” It is home to six of the world’s ten fastest growing economies, a population estimated to double by 2050. “Nearly 80 percentr of United Nations peacekjeeping personnel worldwide are deployed in missions to Africa,” Rodriguez said. “Modest investments, in the right places, go a long way in Africa,” he added.
Reason for Concern
Africa may have had some of the fastest growing economies in 2013, but the intelligence organizations that are the eyes and ears of the U.S. government, say several countries of the world’s second-largest, and second-most-populous continent are likely to experience unrest in 2014.
Last week the 17 government departments and agencies that make up the nation’s intelligence community, presented their annual assessment of global and regional threats confronting the United States and its friends and allies. They include terrorism, transnational crime, the proliferation of nuclear arms and other weapons of mass destruction, cyber threats, economic disruptions and potential shortages of natural resources from food and water to energy.
The 31-page unclassified summary of Senate testimony about their threat assessment also includes dangers facing several regions of the world. Here’s a look at the problems facing North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa:
“The continent has become a hothouse for the emergence of extremist and rebel groups, which increasingly launch deadly asymmetric attacks, and which government forces often cannot effectively counter due to a lack of capability and sometimes will,” the report states.
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In the Sahel, the dry-scrub area bordering the Sahara Desert, the governments in Chad, Niger, Mali and Mauritania are at risk to terrorist retribution for their support of the January 2013 French-led international military intervention in Mali. But the region faces other pressures from a growing youth population and marginalized ethnic groups (like the Tuaregs of Mali) who are frustrated by a lack of government services, unemployment and poor living standards. Compounding the issue: corruption, illicit economies, smuggling and poor living standards.
In Somalia, which is just starting to climb back up from decades as a failed state, the young government is threatened by persistent political infighting, weak leadership from President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud and ill-equipped government institutions. There’s another challenge, the increasingly violent al-Shabaab Islamist group which has been conducting asymmetric attacks against government facilities and Western targets in and around the capital Mogadishu.
East African governments have beefed up their security and policing partnerships since the deadly al-Shabaab inspired attack last September on the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya. But the IC folks think those governments will have difficulty protecting a wide range of potential targets. They told Congress that al-Shabaab-associated networks might be planning additional attacks in Kenya and throughout the region including Burundi, Djibouti, Ethiopia and Uganda to punish those troops that deployed troops to Somalia in support of its government.
In Nigeria, rising political tensions and violent internal conflicts are likely in the lead-up to Nigeria’s 2015 election, according to the U.S. Intelligence community. Nigeria faces critical terrorism threats from the violent Islamist group Boko Haram and persistent extremism in the predominantly Muslim north where “economic stagnation and endemic poverty prevail amid insecurity and neglect.” In the oil-rich south, the economy centered on Lagos, is one of the fastest growing in the world. These disparities and domestic challenges could mean the waning of leadership from Africa’s most populous country (174.5 million) and possibly hurt its ability to deploy peacekeepers around the continent.