Posts tagged ‘Nigeria’
A reset for America’s counter terrorism strategy was announced by President Obama Thursday (May 23) … authorities in London are collecting evidence a day after the brutal slaying of an off-duty British soldier by two men allegedly protesting the treatment of Muslims … meanwhile a man in Florida said to have links to one of the Boston Marathon bombers is slain after an altercation with the FBI.
Recalibrating War on Terror
President Obama today (May 23) outlined his revised plan for countering terrorism and ending the global war on terror.
Speaking at the National Defense University in Virginia, Obama pledged to continue “our systematic effort to dismantle terrorist organizations” but, he added, “this war, like all wars, must end. That’s what history advises. That’s what our democracy demands.”
The president layed out a series of policy changes and clarifications as well as calling for Congress to allow the closing of detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba where 166 alleged terrorists – many now conducting a hunger strike – have been held for years without trial.
Obama also said he was setting new guidelines for when U.S. citizens and foreign nationals can be targeted for death by missile-armed unmanned aircraft, the so-called drones. He defended the use of drone attacks in the past but said the threat has changed in Afghanistan and elsewhere and only when targets pose a “continuing, imminent threat” to the United States and only when avoiding civilian casualties is a “near-certainty,” the Washington Post reported.
His remarks came a day after the White House revealed that four U.S. Citizens have been killed in drone strikes since 2009. For an outline of the plan, click here.
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Horror in London
An off-duty British soldier was run over by a car and then hacked to death May 22 by two men believed to have ties to radical Islamist groups. Both of the alledged attackers were shot and wounded by London police responding to 9-1-1 calls. One of the suspects men held up a bloody knife and meat cleaver in hands red with blood as he ranted to passersby about his reasons for the attack.
The soldier was identified as Lee Rigby, 25, a drummer with the 2nd Battalion, of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, according to CBS. Rigby, who served in Afghanistan, leaves a wife and two-year-old son. He was not in uniform at the time of the attack which took place near the Royal Artillery Barracks in Woolwich, a section of Southeast London.
The man waving the bloody blades and justifying his attack to passersby who filmed him with their cell phones, was identified as 28-year-old Michael Adebolajo, a British-born convert to Islam of Nigerian descent. The second suspect, also hospitalized with gunshot wounds, was not identified.
Authorities in Britain took two other people into custody on conspiracy charges today (May 23) and government investigators were looking into whether the alleged attackers were “lone wolves” or part of a larger terrorist organization.
Rigby is the first person to have died on British soil in an apparent attack by Muslim extremists since the 2005 suicide bombings on London’s transit system, in which 52 people were killed, the Los Angeles Times reported. An additional 1,200 police officers were out patrolling London May 23.
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Marathon Bombing Mystery
There’s been a new wrinkle in the investigation of last month’s bombing of the Boston Marathon.
A man identified as a friend of one of the two alleged bombers was shot to death in Orlando, Florida May 22 after allegedly attacking an FBI agent who has questioning him, the Associated Press reported.
Ibragim Todashev, a friend of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who was himself slain in a gunbattle with police just days after the bombing, was shot after attacking the FBI agent who did not suffer life-threatening injuries. Todashev, a mixed martial arts fighter from Russia, had lived in the Boston area before moving to Orlando, Fla., over the past couple of years.
Tsarnaev’s younger brother, Dzhokhar, was captured and charged in the bombing.
The FBI gave no details on why it was interested in Todashev except to say that he was being questioned as part of the Boston investigation. But some of Todashev’s former roommates said that he knew Tsarnaev from athletic circles in Boston and that the two Russian immigrants might have trained together, the AP reported.
And officials are looking to see if there are any links between Tsarnaev and a triple muder in Boston a year-and-a-half ago.
Security Council Votes
The United Nations Security Council voted unanimously today (April 25) to approve a peacekeeping mission to the war-wracked North African nation of Mali.
A force of 11,200 soldiers and 1,440 police officers could be deployed as soon as July, the New York Times reported. About 6,000 troops already deployed by member countries from the Economic Community of West African States — as well as about 1,000 French troops — are expected to form the base of the peacekeeping mission. France intervened in its former African colony in January when militant Islamic extremists and Tuareg separatists threatened Bamako, Mali’s capital.
For nifty interactive timeline by the Times chronicling the 16-month-old crisis in Mali, once one of the few working democracies in West Africa, click here.
Meanwhile, Mali’s interim president has launched the country’s reconciliation commission to deal with security and governance issues in the country’s north. But a Tuareg separatist group, the MNLA, refuses to disarm before beginning negotiations with the Malian government, the Voice of America reports.
Nigeria: Business and Bullets
Nigeria’s National Economic Council has approved a $9 billion foreign loan to fund new infrastructure, invest in agriculture and create jobs, Bloomberg reports. The lenders include the Export-Import Bank of China, rthe Islamic Development Bank and the African Development Bank. Capital interest rates on the loan will be as low as 2 percent and Nigeria will have more than 40 years to repay.
Meanwhile violence has erupted again in the country’s north, according to the Voice of America. Nearly 200 people were killed last weekend in an attack by the militant Islamist group in the fishing town of Baga. But some analysts say many of the slain may actually have been killed by security forces.
In a report that echoes earlier ones by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, the U.S. government says indiscriminate killings and detentions by security forces are “a seroious human-rights problem” in Nigeria, VoA reported.
Transnational Crime in Africa, Latin America
ALEXANDRIA, Virginia – 4GWAR has reported in the past on how Latin American drug cartels are using countries in West Africa as transit points for drugs heading to Europe and points East. Now we learn from a federal official that small arms – particularly shotguns and shotgun shells – have become an illicit trading commodity in West Africa.
Many countries in West Africa have porous borders, weak law enforcement agencies or grinding poverty that makes government officials susceptible to bribes and corruption – and attractive for arms and drug smugglers. Officials in Gambia, Guinea, Mauritania and Sierra Leone have been implicated in drug trafficking in recent years, according to a United Nations report. Guinea-Bissau is considered to be virtually under the control of narco cartels.
Kevin O’Keefe, chief of the Criminal Intelligence Division at the U.S. ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) told a conference on transnational organized crime this week that the low tech, low maintenance weapons like shotguns are being shipped illegally to places like Nigeria, Ghana and Liberia. They are sought, not for military or terrorist use, but as a commodity to be bought and sold on the black market.
Shotguns are “not readily available in those countries, so anything you bring over, you’re going to make a profit on,” O’Keefe told 4GWAR after his presentation at the Countering Transnational Organized Crime conference sponsored by the Institute for Defense and Government Advancement (IDGA).
“Nobody’s going to overthrow a country or command any big presence with shotguns,” O’Keefe said, “but we find 12-gauge shotguns being regularly trafficked back there because they’re easy to move and if you pay a couple hundred dollars here, there’s a big profit margin once you sell them in these countries.”
At the same conference, the head of U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) said drugs like cocaine were being shipped from several South American countries – including Brazil – to West Africa. But Marine Corps Gen. John Kelly, who oversees U.S. Military interests in all of Central and South America – except Mexico – noted that nearly all the navies and maritime police operations in the region were helping in the war on drugs. The Brazilian Navy has taken it upon itself to patrol the South Atlantic looking for pirates and other criminal activities in the waters off West Africa, he noted.
“Brazil is oriented toward Africa,” said Kelly, noting it shares a common language – Portuguese – with several African nations that were once Portuguese colonies. “Brazil is starting to step out and wants to become a world power,” Kelly said, adding that it is concerned about piracy and sees counter-piracy as a “niche” operation it can perform. He noted that a Brazilian naval officer has served with the U.S. 5th Fleet based in Bahrain, which oversees U.S. counter-piracy operations off the Horn of Africa. Brazil’s Navy has also participated in patrol operations with the U.S. Navy off West Africa, he said.
Troops Kill 14 Suspected Rebels
Nigeria says its troops have killed 14 suspected members of the Islamist extremist group, Boko Haram, during a raid in the northern city of Kano, the BBC reported Sunday (March 31).
At least on soldier was also killed in the assault in a building suspected of being a staging area for attacks on Christians over Easter in Nigeria’s predominantly Muslim north, where Boko Haram has been fighting to create an Islamic state.
Boko Haram has killed an estimated 3,000 people in attacks on churches, schools and government officies since 2009, according to the Voice of America. The group, whose name means “Western education is forbidden,” in Nigeria’s Hausa language, has also attacked police, markets and newspapers offices. The group claimed credit for the kidnapping of a French family of tourists in neighboring Cameroon last month.
But human rights groups have accused Nigerian security forces of being trigger happy and killing hundreds of people during their operations against Boko Haram.
Insurgents Attack Timbuktu Again
Two months after French and Malian troops drove Islamist insurgents out of the ancient city of Timbuktu, the rebel fighters were back, attacking inside the city.
Officials said about five insurgents were killed in the attack which started as a suicide car bombing Saturday (March 30) at a security checkpoint, the New York Times reported.
A Malian soldier was also killed, the Voice of America reported. It is not known how many insurgents are still inside Timbuktu, which was occupied by the insurgents for severasl months after a military coup in southern Mali emboldened Tuareg separatists and Islamic terrorist groups to sweep down from the north and seize an area the size of Texas.
French aircraft and ground troops intervened in January — at the request of Mali’s president — to halt an insurgent advance threatening the capital, Bamako. Recently officials in Paris, who had wanted a quick-in-and-out operation, said at least 1,000 French troops were likely to be in Mali until year’s end. But that force would be about 3,000 less than the current French deployment of 4,000 troops.
Kenyan Election Certified
Kenya’s Supreme Court has ruled unanimously that the recent presidential election was won (barely) by Uhuru Kenyatta fair and square, the Voice of America reported. Kenyatta, the son of Kenya’s founding father Jomo Kenyatta, won with just 50.7 percent of the vote. His closest rival, Prime Minister Raila Odinga, challenged the polling in court.
Violence after the election has been limited compared to the disorder after a close election in 2007 — which Odinga also lost. More than 1,000 people were killed in clashes between rival political groups and security forces.
Complicating matters, however: Both Kenyatta and his running mate, William Ruto, face trial at the International Criminal Court for their alleged roles orchestrating violence during that period.
In the days since the March 5 death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, security analysts have speculated on whether regime change in Caracas will have any effect on transnational narcotics cartels operating in Latin America.
Since 1999, when Chavez began his 14-year rule, Venezuela has been considered a major hub for the shipment of illegal narcotics from neighboring Colombia to the United States and Europe. The U.S. Treasury Department has added several high-level Venezuelan military and intelligence officials to its Foreign Narcotics Kingpin list, for alleged “material assistance” to the Colombian rebel group known as FARC (the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) which Washington has labeled a “narco-terrorist organization.”
In the last decade, the battle against transnational criminal organizations has stretched from Central and South America across the Atlantic to West Africa and beyond. Officials say drug trafficking is destablizing, promotes corruption and other illegal activity including human trafficking and piracy. Increasingly, U.S. and other militaries are helping local and national law enforcement agencies with intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance to battle criminal cartels.
By law, the U.S. Defense Department is the lead agency for the detection and monitoring of aerial and maritime transit of illegal drugs, although federal law also limits the military’s assistance in U.S. territory to civil support. However, the Coast Guard, a unit of the Department of Homeland Security, has dual military and law enforcement authority.
But as authorities increase pressure on them in the Western Hemisphere, narco-cartels have been turning to Africa, especially the politically unstable countries of West Africa, to use as transit points for Europe-bound illicit drug shipments.
A United Nations report released Feb. 25 listed the growing influence of narco-cartels both foreign and home-grown in West Africa. Cocaine trafficking remains the most lucrative criminal activity of international groups operating in the region, but one “worrying development” is the emergence of methamphetamine production and related trafficking, according to the report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
The report also discussed human trafficking between West Africa and Europe and arms trafficking across Africa.
Top government officials from the United States and other countries are slated to discuss the toll of trafficking in drugs, guns and humans at the Countering Transnational Organized Crime conference in Alexandria, Va. next month. To read the whole story, visit the Institute for Defense and Government Advancement site (http://www.idga.org) or click here.
Boko Haram Attack
Nigerian security forces say they repelled an attack on a military base by the radical Islamist terror group, Boko Haram, killing 20 militants. An Army spokesman told the Voice of America that the attack occurred today (March 3) in the village of Monguno (also spelled Munguno) about 200 kilometers (125 miles) from Maiduguri (see map) on the country’s northeast.
Nigeria’s Joint Task Force on Operation Restore Order said three four-wheeled drive vehicles and eight motorcycles were used in the attack, according to the Nigeria’s Leadership newspaper group (via the All Africa website). Army spokesman Lt. Col. Sagir Musa was quoted as saying AK-47 assault rifles, rocket propelled grenades and a large quantity of ammunition were recovered from the attackers by government troops.
There was no mention of civilian or military casualties. The Associated Press reported that witnesses said the attack also killed a village leader. It came just two days after the release of a video purportedly made by Boko Haram’s leader, saying the anti-Western group – which wants to impose Islamic law in Nigeria – will not call off its attacks until sharia becomes the law of Nigeria.
Did Chadians Score Again?Did soldiers from Chad — who are assisting French troops battling radical Islamist insurgents in the mountains of Mali — kill the mastermind of last month’s hostage-taking attack at an Algerian gas plant?
On Saturday, the president of Chad, Idriss Deby, said his troops killed about 40 militants in a stronghold near the Algerian border, Reuters reported. Among the dead, it was claimed, was Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the one-eyed commander of an al Qaeda affiliate who claimed responsibility for the attack on the In Amenas natural gas plant in Algeria. More than 60 people were killed during the hostage siege and final rescue/assault by Algerian troops in January. That al Qaeda attack came just days after the French launched a military intervention in Mali at the government’s request.
If true, the news of Belmokhtar’s it would be “a major blow to al Qaeda in the region and to Islamist rebels forced to flee towns they had seized in northern Mali by an offense by French and African troops,” Reuters said March 2.
But now ther commander of Chad’s troops in Mali says he can’t confirm the terror leader’s death in the assault on the stronghold. “It is certain that some leaders were killed. But I can’t confirm that Mokhtar Belmokhtar was killed, Gen. Oumar Bikomo told the New York Times.
But the general was more certain about the death of another al Qaeda-linked commander, Adelhamid Abou Zeid, which Chad officials reported Friday.
Meanwhile, a third French soldier has been killed in the military intervention in Mali called Operation Serval.
Imaginative Rhino Protection
Illegal poaching of the wild African rhinoceros for its incredibly valuable horn is pushing the beast toward extinction and that’s pushing environmentalists to come up with some unusual solutions to the problem.
Writing in the journal Science, four leading environmental scientists are suggesting legalizing the rhino horn trade as a way to regulate and control it, Reuters reports. There is an incredible black market for rhino horn, an ingredient in traditional Chinese folk medicine. Prices have climbed from about $4,700 per kilogram ($2,132 per pound) in 1993 to around $65,000 per kilo ($29,485 per pound) today, the scientists said.
There are only 5,00 Black Rhinos and 20,000 White Rhinos left — mostly in South Africa and Namibia — even though a 1977 treaty banned the international trade in rhino horns.
Instead, the scientists say, “the time has come for a highly regulated legal trade in horn.”
Meanwhile, Google and the World Wildlife Fund are teaming up to fly unmanned surveillance aircraft over parts of Africa and Asia to monitor and catch poachers who kill endangered tigers, elephants and yes, rhinos, according to news reports.
The WWF is already flying small hand-launched drones over national parks in Nepal. Now Google is giving the environmental protection group a $5 million grant to expand their use of drones and other high tech devices like wildlife tagging and analytical software.
The 15-member West African trading bloc, known as ECOWAS, is giving the interim government in coup-stricken Guinea-Bissau seven more months to prepare for national elections.
The tiny West African nation was wracked by a military coup days before a presidential election last April, prompting international partners like the European Union to freeze aid for the former Portuguese colony. The military gave power back to an ingterim civilian government headed by President Manuel Serifo Nhamadjo last May in a deal brokered by ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States).
Elections were supposed to be held in May 2013 but the heads of state of ECOWAS nations, meeting in Ivory Coast, extended the transitional period in Guinea-Bissau until Dec. 31, Reuters reported, to give Nhamadjo more time to set up the election machinery before the end of the year.
Guinea-Bissau is said to be a major transit hub for South American dug cartels moving narcotics to Europe, Bloomberg reports.
Meanwhile, officials in another small est African nation say they have foiled an attempted coup.
Authorities in Benin said Sunday (March 3) that a plot to oust President Thomas Boni Yayi and install a military regime has been thwarted, according to Nigeria’s The Guardian newspaper.
In a statement read to journalists Sunday, State Prosecutor, Justin Gbenameto, said a Colonel and a businessman were arrested for plotting “to block the Head of State from returning to Cotonou”[Benin's capital] after his trip [to meet with South American leaders in Equitorial Guinea] “and to institute a military regime,” The Guardian website said.
Fierce fighting continues in northern Mali as French troops and their allies from Mali and Chad battle to clear violent Islamist extremists from mountain strongholds.French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said today (Feb. 26) that the fighting in the Ifoghas region – near the Algerian border – is targeting an area where the “most radical terrorist groups” have gone, according to the Voice of America.
Because of that, Le Drian says says it’s too soon to talk about withdrawing troops from the former French colony in West Africa, although costs of the nearly two-month intervention are growing.
The defense minister told France’s RTL radio that the French intervention in Mali has cost more than €100 million ($133 million), the Associated Press reported.France began airstrikes Jan. 11 against insurgents that have seized control of almost half of Mali and were threatening Bamako, Mali’s capital. There are now about 4,000 French troops in Mali and Paris has said it wanted to pull them out as soon as the threat diminished — perhaps as soon as March.
Late last week, officials in Chad announced 13 of their soldiers had been killed and five wounded in fighting with the militants in northern Mali. Officials said 65 insurgents were also killed.
To see some striking Aljazeera photos of the fighting and its aftermath in the northern Mali town of Gao, click here.
Meanwhile, Ivory Coast Foreign Minister Charles Koffy Diby says it will cost more than 700 million euros to pay for a multi-national West African military force to replace the French in Mali. The military option was approved in December by the United Nations Security Council and organized by the 15-member Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which includes Mali and Ivory Coast.
The peacekeeping force is supposed to consist of 6,000 troops from ECOWAS countries and another 2,000 from Chad, which is not an ECOWAS member but borders Mali. More than 1,000 Chadian troops are already on the ground in Mali, as are contingents from Nigeria, Benin, Togo, Burkina Faso and Senegal.
According to the South African Press Association, Diby, whose country holds the ECOWAS chairmanship this year, estimated it would cost 715 million euros – more than twice the amount pledged by donor nations in January. Diby said the sum he had in mind took into account “the demands of an asymetrical war or a drawn-out conflict that the narco-terrorists … could bring about.”
Transnational Crime Threat
A United Nations report released today (Feb. 25) warns that the production of methamphetamine is on the rise in West Africa.
While cocaine trafficking is the most lucrative criminal activity of transnational crime groups operating in the region, one “worrying development” is the emergence of meth production and related trafficking, according to the report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
The main market for West African-produced meth is East Asia, although it is also going to South Africa. Income from West African-made meth “is remarkably high” for a product that’s new to the market, the report said, adding that competition from drug rings in East Asia is likely to cut into those profits in coming years.
Pierre Lapaque, the West and Central Africa representative for the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime says meth is an attractive product for West African criminals because it is easy to make, the Voice of America reported. “You can do that in your kitchen, if you wish,” he said, adding: “You go on the internet, you get the recipe and you cook.”
Although the flow of cocaine out of West Africa peaked at 47 tons in 2007, officials believe cocaine trafficking is back up to 30 to 35 tons a year.
Much of that cocaine comes from Brazil where Nigerian crime groups are exporting the drug. the report said, adding that those crime groups have been using containerized consignments and maritime shipping to smuggle the drugs. The small country of Benin on the West Coast of Africa is seeing more use as a departure point for air couriers headed for Europe, the report said.
The report also noted that while human trafficking between West Africa and Europe had declined in recent years, there are still problems with pirates off the coasts of Nigeria and Benin as well as trafficking in firearms and fraudulent medicines.
“The recent flood of 10,000 to 20,000 firearms from Libya does represent a serious threat to stability in the region, a threat that appears to have been realized in northern Mali,” the report said.
Kidnappings on Rise
Westerners, particularly French nationals, are being targeted for abduction by Islamist militants, angered over France’s campaign against anti-government Islamist insurgents in Mali, according to The Africa Report website.
Analysts suspect that terrorist groups in Nigeria, Mali, Chad and Niger are working together to avenge what they see as a war on radical Islam, the website said.
The latest attack came Tuesday (Feb. 20) when a family of French tourists – including four children – were kidnapped in Cameroon by armed men on motorbikes. The seven French nationals were seized near a wildlife sanctuary in northern Cameroon and were taken across the border into Nigeria. No group has taken credit for the attack although authorities suspect Ansarum, an offshoot of the violent Nigerian Islamist group, Boko Haram.
The incident brings to 15 the number of French nationals being held by kidnappers in Northwest Africa. Seven French nationals are being held by an al Qaeda affiliate – al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Another Frenchman was taken by Ansarum last June, according to the BBC.
On Saturday, seven foreigners were kidnapped during an attack on a Lebanese construction site in northern Nigeria. Ansarum has taken responsibility for that attack, saying it was in retaliation for France’s attack on militants in Mali. Islamist extremists have been responsible for the deaths of numerous foreigners in Nigeria including North Korean doctors and Chinese construction workers, according to The Guardian.
Brazil, Angola Seek Closer Ties
The governments of Brazil and Angola have agreed to form a joint defense committee to supervise cooperation and annual meetings to be held in both countries, the Angola Press Agency (ANGOP) reports.
The agreement was announced in a communique issued at the end of a two-day visit to Angola’s capital, Luanda, by a Brazilian delegation headed by Defense Minister Celso Nunes Morim.
Morim, who was accompanied by several business people on the trip, told a press briefing at the Angolan Foreign Ministry that Brazil is looking to cooperate with Angola on defense issues like training and joint exercises, according to ANGOP. “The simple fact that these business people have come to Angola shows that the interest is not restricted to selling alone, but also to seek partnerships and joint investment possibilities as this is important for the country’s development,” Nunes Morin stated.
Angola is looking to Brazil for support to strengthen its own defence industry, to reduce the Angolan Armed Forces (FAA)’s dependence on foreign military equipment sales, according to Angola’s defense minister, Cândido Pereira dos Santos Van-Dunem.
Brazil has the strongest economy in South America and has been looking for foreign partners to supply equipment and manufacturing technology to strengthen its defense forces and defense industry.
Both countries are former Portuguese colonies.
Tunisia, the North African country — where the Arab Spring began more than two years ago — has been lurching through a political crisis since Feb. 6 when leftist politician and opposition leader Chokri Belaid was assassinated.
No one took responsibility for the fatal shooting but Belaid’s supporters blamed the ruling Islamist Ennahda Party — which vehemently denied any hand in the murder — according to AFP via channelnewsasia.com
The politician’s murder sparked violent street protests and strikes. Then-Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali tried to defuse the situation by announcing plans to create a non-Islamist cabinet of technocrats. The proposal failed and Jebali, resigned.
Now Presidentr Moncef Marzouki has been holding meetings with top politicians to pull the country out of the crisis.
Meanwhile, according to ForeignPolicy.com‘s Middle East Channel, the political instability is hurting Tunisia’s fragile economy. Remember: It was protests about high unemployment and food prices as well as government corruption that precipitated regime change in January 2011. Now Standard and Poor’s has downgraded Tunisia’s credit rating because of the “risk that the political situation could deteriorate further…”
Algerian Hostage Siege
We’ve held off posting on the seizure of hostages at a natural gas plant in eastern Algeria until the situation became a little less confused. But as far as 4GWAR is concerned, the situation is still quite confusing. The Algerian prime minister said today (Jan. 21) that 37 foreign hostages were killed in the four-day terrorist incident.
Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal also said a “Canadian” citizen coordinated the siege`and that seven of the foreigners killed — during the initial seizure of the desert plant on Jan. 16 or in the attack by Algerian security forces that retook the plant on Jan. 19 — have yet to be identified. Five other foreigners are still missing. Seven Japanese, six Filipinos, three Americans and three Britains have been identified by their respective governments as among the confirmed dead. Others, from Britain, Norway and elsewhere are listed as unaccounted for, according to Reuters.
The Algerians say about 700 Algerian workers and 100 other foreigners survived the ordeal at the In Amenas plant near the border with Libya.
Reuters also reported that an Algerian security source told the news agency that documents found on the bodies of two militants had identified them as Canadians. At a news conference in Algiers the Algerian prime minister said a Canadian was among the militants, adding that: “He was coordinating the attack.”
A leader of the terrorist group, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), claimed responsibility for the attack on the gas plant in retaliation for French military intervention in Mali which Islamist militants are threatening to overrun. The AQIM says it was also punishing Alegerian officials for granting French military aircraft flyover permission on their way to Mali (See story below and note the border Mali shares with Algeria in the map above).
In a separate story from London, Reuters reported that Britain said it would increase counter-terrorism and intelligence aid to Algeria and consider giving more help to France in the fight against Islamists in Mali. But Prime Minister David Cameron ruled out any chance of direct British military intervention in Africa.
More on Mali
French and Malian troops have retaken two towns from Islamic militants several news organizations are reporting. The joint force took control of Diabaly and Douentza today (Jan. 21), although BBC reports the towns had been abandoned by militant Islamist fighters fled both towns last week after a French bombing campaign. Diabaly is about 250 miles northeast of Mali’s capital of Bamako. Douentza is about another 250 miles northeast of the capital. Diabaly was the southern-most point held by the militants, Bloomberg reported. Mali is one of Africa’s leading gold-producing countries — even though its people are desperately poor, according to Bloomberg.
The French began airstrikes using helicopters and fighter jets on Jan. 11 to halt the militants’ advance on the capital. They were concerned about Mali becoming a launching pad for terror attacks against Europe. About 2,000 French troops are in Mali already with another 500 expected, although the France, the former colonial ruler of Mali, insists it don’t plan to stay for a long time in an Afghanistan-like mission in Mali.
Meanwhile, an international force from several West African nations is beginning to form. Already about 250 soldiers from Nigeria, Togo and Senegal are in Mali. Burkina Faso, Niger, Benin, Ghana and Guinea have all pledged to send troops. Chad has pledged to send 2,000 troops and Nigeria will send 1,200 according to the BBC. Funding the coalition force as well as coordinating action among troops from many lands speaking many languages is still a concern.
“The crisis in Mali, if not brought under control, may spill over into Nigeria and other West African countries with negative consequences on our collective security, political stability and development efforts,” Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan wrote earlier this month in a letter to the country’s Senate requesting approval of the troop deployment in Mali, according to Bloomberg. Nigeria is dealing with terror attacks by its own Islamist militant group, Boko Haram.
French Defense Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian said the objective in Mali was to “totally reconquer” the area seized by nomadic Tuareg nationalists and militant Islamist fundamentalist groups like Ansar Dine, The Guardian newspaper reported.
The African Threat
Do the Algerian hostage raid and French intervention in Mali — coming on the heels of Islamist militant attacks in Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda and Somalia signal a widening of the so-called War on Terror or an expansion of jihad from Southwest Asia and the Middle East to Africa?
A number of analysts have weighed in on that question. Here is a sampling:
An attempted military coup in Eritrea, a country sometimes called the North Korea of Africa, has apparently failed.
Eritrea, which sits just above the Horn of Africa on the Red Sea, has one of the most secretive and repressive regimes in Africa, according to the New York Times. The country won its independence from Ethiopia in 1991after a 30-year war of rebellion.
Eritrea has waged war at one time or another with nearly all of its neighbors. The United Nations has imposed sanctions on the country because of suspected support for Somali militants.
On Monday (Jan. 21) mutinous troops stormed the Ministry of Information and siezed the state-run television service (often a first step in seizing power in coups and revolutions). But apparently nobody took to the streets and soldiers loyal to the government of President Isaias Afwerki put down the would-be revolution. For details, click here and here.
U.S. Embassy Evacuated
The U.S. Embassy in the Central African Republic (CAR) has shut down operations and its staff has been evacuated as rebel troops advance on the capital, Bangui, according to Associated Press reports from NBC News, the Washington Post and other news outlets.
U.S. Ambassador Laurence Wohlers and about 40 embassy personnel and private U.S. citizens were flown out of Bangui on a U.S. Air Force plane bound for Kenya. In a statement, the U.S. State Department said it had “temporarily suspended” embassy operations on Dec. 28 because of “the present security situation” in the CAR. It added that the U.S. has not suspended diplomatic relations with the turbulent country.
Meanwhile, CAR President Francois Bozizie has asked forrmer colonial ruler, France, which has about 250 soldiers based in the country as part of a peacekeeping mission, to assist his government in defeating the rebels who have seized 10 towns in the north and have advanced to within 45 miles of the capital, Reuters reported.
But France’s Socialist government says they don’t want to get involved in the internal fracas. French troops have propped up besieged governments in the CAR and other former African colonies in the past but “Those days are over,” French President Hollande said. French troops are in the CAR only to protect French citizens and property, officials said. About 1,200 French nationals live in the CAR, mostly in the capital. A large number of them are involved in the mining business. The CAR, which gained its independence from France in 1960, has large deposits of uranium, gold and diamonds – but remains one of the poorest countries in Africa.
The rebels want to oust Bozize, who himself came to power in a 2003 rebellion, for not living up to 2007 peace agreements with them that ended an earlier uprising, the New York Times reported.
The Central African Republic is one of four countries in the region that has suffered the depredations of the violent Lord’s Resistance Army, headed by international fugitive Joseph Kony. About 100 U.S. Special Operations troops are in the region to help local troops hunt down Kony.
Piracy off Nigeria
Armed pirates attacked a supply tug boat off the coast of Nigeria’s oil-rich southern delta, kidnapping four foreign sailors, including three Italians, the Associated Press reported.
First word of the latest act of piracy and kidnapping off the oil-rich coast of West Africa came from the International Maritime Bureau’s Piracy Reporting Centre.
The Dec. 23 attack was the latest in a growing trend in West Africa’s Gulf of Guinea region. There have been more than 50 reported incidents in west African waters in 2012, according to the IMB. Half of them were off the coast of Nigeria, Africa’s largest oil producer, according to the All Africa news website.