On Tuesday, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls sought to ease fears across the country after a recent spate of attacks. The French government has urged the public to remain vigilant as authorities carry out investigations. President Francois Hollande has called an emergency cabinet meeting for Tuesday and has urged the public not to panic. While it appears that French authorities are playing down the idea that there is a pattern behind these three incidents, many are asking whether there is a copycat element to them.
It began on Saturday, when a man in the central town of Joue-les-Tours stabbed three police officers before being shot dead. Bertrand Nzohabonayo was shot dead after he entered the police station armed with a knife and seriously wounded three officers. Mr Nzohabonayo had previously committed petty offences however he was not on a domestic intelligence watch list. According to a source, his brother is known for his radical views and once pondered travelling to Syria. French anti-terrorism investigators have opened an inquiry into the attack.
Two other incidents followed Saturday’s attack. On Sunday, a driver shouting “Allahu Akbar” (God is Great) ploughed his vehicle into pedestrians, injuring thirteen people in the city of Dijon. The prosecutor has since indicated that the attacker had a long history of mental illness and that the incident is not linked to terrorism. The latest attack occurred Monday, when ten people were injured after a van drove into a Christmas market in the western city of Nantes. The attack occurred around 19:00 local time (1800 GMT), with witnesses reporting that the van drove into a stall that was selling mulled wine. After the vehicle came to a halt, the driver stabbed himself in the chest several times, causing himself serious injuries. French interior minister spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet has indicated that the motive behind the attack is currently unclear.
While concerns that these attacks may be copycat incidents have spread across France, Prime Minister Valls indicated Tuesday that there was “no link” between these three incidents, adding that security forces are dealing with individuals who were acting alone. According to Mr Valls, “we do not minimise these acts,” adding that the government wants to “reassure” the public and understand what had happened.
On Monday, Burundi authorities disclosed that they have arrested the brother of the man who was fatally shot in Joue-les-Tours. Burundi’s National Intelligence Services confirmed that Brice Nzohabonayo was detained in the capital Bujumbura shortly after his brother Bertrand attacked a police station. Burundi’s intelligence service is currently working with its French counterpart, with sources reporting that investigators are now seeking to establish if any attacks are being planned in Burundi as the country is a contributor to the African Union (AU) force that is currently battling al-Shabaab in Somalia. Paris prosecutor Francois Molins also announced Monday that the suspect’s sister had been taken into custody on Saturday, adding that she would soon be released as there are no elements suggesting her complicity.
The three incidents in France come as governments around the world brace for so-called “lone wolf” attacks, which are carried out by individuals who are returning from waging jihad abroad, or who are simply following calls for violence made by Islamic State (IS).
French national Herve Gourdel, 55, has been kidnapped by a militant group in Tizi Ouzou, eastern Algeria. Gourdel, a mountain guide, was travelling in a vehicle with Algerian nationals when he was abducted in the village of Ait Ouabane, and taken into a mountainous region. A week prior to the kidnapping, the abductors, a group calling themselves Jund al-Khilifa (Caliphate Soldiers) announced their split from Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and swore allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS/Daaesh). Shortly following the French ministry’s announcement of Gourdel’s kidnapping, Caliphate Soldiers released a four-minute video entitled, “A message from the Caliphate Soldiers in Algeria to the dog Hollande.” In the video, a spokesman declares, “We, the Caliphate Soldiers in Algeria, in compliance with the order of our leader Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi … give Hollande, president of the criminal French state, 24 hours to cease its hostility against the Islamic State; otherwise the fate of his citizen will be slaughter. To save his life, you must officially announce the end of your hostility against the Islamic State.” Gourdel, who was seated between to masked gunmen, was directed to read a statement to Hollande: “I am in the hands of Jund al-Khilifa, an Algerian armed group. This armed group is asking me to ask you to not intervene in Iraq. They are holding me as a hostage and I ask you Mr. President to do everything to get me out of this bad situation. I thank you.” The video has been authenticated by the French Foreign Ministry. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, in New York for UN General Assembly, stated, “We will do everything we can to liberate hostages, but a terrorist group cannot change France’s position.” A statement from President Hollande said that France and Algeria are cooperating at all levels to find and free Gourdel. Meanwhile, following France’s first air raids over ISIS targets in Syria on Friday, at least 30 French embassies across the Middle East and Africa raised have their threat levels. The kidnapping occurred a day after a 42 minute ‘call-to-arms’ video was released by ISIS. In the video, ISIS spokesman Abu Muhammad al-Adnani called upon fighters to attack or kill citizens of countries taking part in the US-led anti-ISIS coalition: “If you can kill a disbelieving American or European — especially the spiteful and filthy French — or an Australian, or a Canadian, including the citizens of the countries that entered into a coalition against the Islamic State, then rely upon Allah, and kill him.” In the 21 September video, Adnani also called upon insurgents in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula to increase the number of attacks against Egyptian security forces and to continue beheadings. Adnani says, “Rig the roads with explosives for them. Attack their bases. Raid their homes. Cut off their heads. Do not let them feel secure.” The statement underscores the recent intelligence which suggests that ISIS ISIS militants are developing stronger ties in the Sinai region, and raises fears that the group is spreading its ties across North Africa. Sinai-based terror group Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis pledged allegiance ISIS earlier this year, and it is known that ISIS, while not supplying the group with weapons or personnel, has provided advice on how to target Egyptians. Hours before the announcement, terrorist group Ajnad Misr (Soldiers of Egypt) claimed responsibility for a bomb blast near the Foreign Ministry in Cairo on Sunday that killed two senior police officers and wounded several other policemen. Ajnad Misr stated they used an explosive device on “officers of the criminal apparatus,” and added that the attacks would not stop until “the ruling tyrants fall and God’s sharia is established.” ISIS has notoriously been conducting gruesome beheadings as a form of ‘terrorism as theatre’ propaganda. The group released has released three videos which showed the beheadings of two American journalists, James Foley and Steven Sotloff, and British aid worker David Haines. In addition, it is known that they have also beheaded at least two Lebanese soldiers. They have recently threatened to behead a fourth hostage. It is believed that there are fewer than 10 hostages still held by ISIS.
According to a new report, Boko Haram’s reign of terror in the northern regions of Nigeria has forced nearly 800 people to flee the area on a daily basis, with over 3,000 people killed in the last year alone.
A new report issued by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) has indicated that a total of 3.3 million Nigerians have now been driven from their homes as a result of Boko Haram attacks, however there are fears that the group’s relentless attacks on civilians, including the high-profile kidnapping of over 200 school girls in April, could have implications for the wider region, as West Africa’s wider security is increasingly becoming at risk. This has been reflected by Alfredo Zamudio, director of IDMC, who has stated “the group is growing in its ambition, capability and reach, creating fears that it will become a regional destabilising force, on par with Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army in Central Africa, “ adding “as the government struggles to contain the group’s southward spread towards Abuja, questions for the future of regional stability have been raised, which have weakened Nigeria’s relations with Cameroon, Niger and Chad.” The local economy has also been affected by the violence, which could have devastating consequences in the next few months. Over 60 per cent of farmers in the northern region of the country were displaced just before the start of the planting season. This has sparked worries of severe food insecurity and escalating food prices.
Despite Nigeria’s on going counterinsurgency operations, and the imposition of a state of emergency in the states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe by the Nigerian government in May 2013, Boko Haram attacks have escalated in frequency and impact over the past year. According to figures from the United Nations, at least 3,000 people have been killed since the state of emergency was imposed while at least 250,000 people have fled their homes over the same period.
The latest figures come just days after hundreds of people are suspected to have been killed in new Boko Haram attacks that were carried out in the north-eastern region of the country on Tuesday. According to residents, gunmen laid siege to four villages, razing homes, churches and mosques, and killing many.
Meanwhile Britain’s Foreign Secretary William Hague will host a meeting of African and Western officials in London next week. According to his office, the meeting will be aimed at increasing international efforts to defeat Boko Haram. The 12 June meeting will be attended by the Nigerian foreign minister and representatives from neighbouring African countries, including Benin, Chad, Cameroon and Niger. Officials from Canada, Britain, France, the United States and the European Union will also be present. A statement released by the Foreign Office indicated “the meeting will consider what can be more done both to improve regional coordination, and on economic and social development to counter the threat of Boko Haram.” A statement released by Mr Hague’s office stated, “the London Ministerial on Security in Northern Nigeria will…consider further options to combat terrorism. This shows the determination of those in the region, with the support of the international community, to defeat Boko Haram.”
World health officials confirmed Wednesday that after a deadly spike in recent days, some 208 people have now died from the Ebola virus in Guinea.
World Health Organization (WHO) officials have reported that during the period between May 29 and June 1, at least 21 people died from the virus while 37 new cases of suspected Ebola were reported. This brings the total number of cases in the West African country to 328. Of these, 193 have been confirmed by laboratory tests. Over this same period, three confirmed cases, and ten suspected cases, were recorded in neighbouring Sierra Leone. Six people are believed to have died from the virus in Sierra Leone while ten have died in Liberia.
The latest spike in deaths in Guinea comes over a month after health officials in the country had reported a slow down in the spread of the deadly virus. On 24 April, Guinea’s health ministry indicated in a statement that the situation was “more and more under control thanks to measures taken by the government and its partners.” Officials are now reporting that more than half of the new deaths in Guinea occurred in the southern region of Gueckedou, which is where the outbreak is centred. The region is located near the borders with Liberia and Sierra Leone and is known for its weekly market, which attracts traders from the region as well as from neighbouring countries. Medical charities are also reporting that one of the reasons behind the sudden increase in cases is that some people are refusing to go to hospital to seek treatment, and instead prefer to seek help from traditional healers. While the Ebola virus can kill up to 90% of those infected, people have a better chance of surviving if the virus is identified early and they receive proper medical attention.
Experts from the World Health Organization (WHO) and Doctors Without Borders charity are currently in the region, where about 600 people are under observation after having possible contact with the Ebola virus.
The outbreak of the Ebola virus in Sierra Leone has prompted iron ore company London Mining, to announce that a number of its “non-essential” staff have left the country in wake of the Ebola threat. Officials at the British firm have also reported that they have restricted some travel to the area, noting that production at its Marampa mine is unaffected. The firm is currently working with local and international agencies in order to monitor the health of all its employees. While the company is one of two large extraction companies in Sierra Leone, it is the first to reveal that staff members have left the region in light of the threat.
A television station in Dubai has released a video of a French hostage kidnapped in Mali by al-Qaeda militants. He is believed to be the last French hostage held worldwide.
The video, which aired Tuesday by Dubai-based Akhbar Al Aan television, depicts Serve Lazarevic, who was abducted in 2011. During the video, Mr Lazarevic states “I take this opportunity today may 13 2014 to call on Francois Hollande, the president of France, to do everything to negotiate my release.” He also states that he is “suffering from several health problems and from difficult environmental conditions.” In the video, Mr Lazarevic, who is a dual French and Serbian national, is seen wearing a black turban and is accompanied by two masked gunmen. French authorities have acknowledged the video, stating that it’s authenticity is currently being examined by French officials.
Mr Lazarevic, 50 years old, was kidnapped along with another Frenchman, Philippe Verdon, on 24 November 2011. The two men were seized at gunpoint by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) militants at a small hotel in the town of Hombori, which is located in central Mali. According to his relatives, Mr Lazarevic had been accompanying Mr Verdon on a business trip. Mr Verdon was killed in July last year. His body was discovered in northern Mali, with French prosecutors later indicating that he had been shot in the head. At the time of his death, AQIM, which often takes Western hostages in a bid to gain ransom payments to fund their terrorist operations, indicated that it had killed Mr Verdon in retaliation for France’s intervention. Mr Lazarevic is believed to be the last Frenchman held in captivity worldwide. Another French hostage, Gilberto Rodrigues Leal, was killed in April 2014 after being held in captivity since 2012. He was also kidnapped by al-Qaeda-linked militants in Mali. Last October, following secret talks led by negotiators in Niger, four French hostages seized by al-Qaeda-linked gunmen in Niger were released. One of the four hostages, Theirry Dol, later described spending almost a month with Mr Lazarevic before being freed, however the two men were not allowed to talk. While reports indicated that a ransom payment was made for the release of the four hostages, the French government has denied these reports.
While French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius recently indicated that the French government was working discreetly to find Mr Lazarevic, Tuesday’s video is not only a proof of life but also a clear signal to France to begin serious negotiations.
France deployed troops to Mali in January 2013 after al-Qaeda-linked militants threatened to take over the capital city, Bamako.