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Support Rallies Banned in Nigeria’s Capital

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Citing a security threat, Nigerian police have decided to ban public protests for the release of the kidnapped schoolgirls in the capital Abuja.

In a statement released Monday, Abuja police commissioner Joseph Mbu confirmed the decision, stating that public protests had “degenerated” and that the rallies were “now posing a serious security threat.”  The capital city has seen almost daily rallies, which have called for the Nigerian government to take firmer actions to rescue the more than 200 schoolgirls that were kidnapped by Islamist militants in the remote village of Chibok on 14 April.  The ban also comes a week after scuffles broke out between demonstrators organised under #BringBackOurGirls and a new government-sponsored group known as #ReleaseOurGirls.  The police commissioner has also been quoted as stating that “dangerous elements” could join the demonstrations and further jeopardize the security situation.

While the protests have increased over the past several weeks, with activists and campaign groups seeking to attain meetings with senior government officials, including the president himself, last Wednesday, the high-profile marches descended into violence after a number of young men attacked female protesters, throwing chairs, bottles and stones at them.  According to on the ground sources, some of the men involved in the incident were carrying posters in support of President Jonathan.  The identities of the men involved in the attack have not been released, however some sources have idicated that they may have links to the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP).  No evidence connecting this however has been released.

While no further details pertaining to the ban have been released, some protest organizers have questioned the legitimacy of the decision, stating that the move may have been politically motivated in a bid to quiet those not content with the government’s reaction to the mass kidnapping.

Families and supporters of the missing girls have been critical of President Goodluck Jonathan’s response to the kidnappings, accusing him of being slow to reach and indifferent to their plight.  In the weeks since the April 14 kidnappings, Nigeria has been forced to accept international help, including from the United States, in a bid to locate the missing girls.

Two Priests and Nun Released in Cameroon

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Officials have confirmed the release of two Italian priests and a Canadian nun, seized by gunmen in Cameroon in April.

A security source confirmed Sunday that two Italian priests and a Canadian nun, kidnapped by suspected Boko Haram militants in Cameroon two months ago, have been freed.  The Cameroonian security source indicated that the hostages were “freed overnight, at about 2 in the morning.  Our soldiers picked them up from a village close to Amchide,” which is located in the northern region of the country.  A military source has indicated that the three, who were kidnapped near the border with Nigeria in April, were released as part of a prisoner exchange with a fee being paid, noting, “it was not easy.  The kidnappers changed the rendezvous place repeatedly,” adding that the heavily-armed hostage-takers had sent a “motorbike to find us.”  The hostages were flown out of Maroua airport on board a military aircraft on Sunday morning, headed for the capital city.

Italy’s minister for foreign affairs, Federica Mogherini confirmed their release, stating it was a moment of “great joy.”  He also congratulated the Cameroonian authorities for “a well-run operation.”  The Vatican also responded to the news of the release on Sunday morning, with Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi stating “the Pope, who has followed these dramatic events from the start, was immediately informed….Our thoughts remain with all the other innocent people who are still being held captive, the victims of unacceptable kidnappings in different regions and conflicts.”  The priests, named as Giampaolo Mart and Giantonio Allegri from Italy, and Canadian nun Gilberte Bussier, were kidnapped on April 4 from the small parish of Tchere in the northern district of Maroua, which is located 800 kilometres (500 miles) north of Yaoundé.  While there was no initial claim of responsibility, Cameroonian security forces blamed Nigeria’s Boko Haram for the kidnapping.  The three are believed to have been taken over the border shortly after being kidnapped, with a military source indicating that Cameroonian negotiators had spent a week in Nigeria discussing their release.

According to sources, the two priests had been working on improving water supplies and fighting the spread of HIV Aids, a well as their religious duties.  One of the priests had been in Cameroon for more than six years while the other had arrived about a year before the abduction.

Militants in the region have in the past kidnapped a number of Westerners in a bid to fund their uprising.  In two separate incidents last year, Boko Haram militants kidnapped a priest as well as seven members of a French family in northern Cameroon.

UN Chief Condemns Attack on Church in Central African Republic

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On Thursday, the United Nations Secretary-General condemned Wednesday’s attack on a Catholic Church in the Central African Republic’s capital city, Bangui, where at least fifteen people, including a priest, were killed.

Wednesday’s attack on the Notre Dame de Fatima church was a rare large-scale assault on a Christian community in Bangui, with local officials reporting that at least fifteen people, including a priest at the church, were killed.   According to eyewitnesses, Muslim rebels stormed the church, launching grenades and spraying civilians with gunfire.  A police officer and military source have indicated that the violence erupted during the afternoon hours at the compound of the Notre Dame de Fatima Church, where several thousands of displayed people have sought refuge.  The church is located in central Bangui in a neighbourhood where both Christians and Muslims reside.  Archbishop Dieudonne Mzapalainga confirmed that a 76-year-old priest, Paul-Emile Nzale, was killed in the violence.  Witnesses later reported that exchanges of gunfire continued into Wednesday night, mostly near a mainly Muslim neighbourhood of Bangui, where helicopters were seen flying over the area.  With fears escalating that this new bloodshed will spark reprisal attacks on the city’s few remaining Muslims, barricades have been set up in a number of areas.  The attack on the compound at the church is the largest and most brazen attack that has been blamed on Muslim fighters since their Seleka coalition was ousted from power nearly five months ago.  Wednesday’s incident also marked a rare attack on a house of worship, as Catholic churches have served as sanctuaries for both Christian and Muslim civilians.

On Thursday, the situation remained tense throughout Bangui after residents and officials reported that a group of Christian youth destroyed one of the last mosques in the capital city.  A French helicopter was seen patrolling the skies of Bangui while foreign peacekeepers patrolled the streets, firing warning shots in a bid to prevent further hostilities.  Thousands of people also marched in another area of Bangui, shouting slogans against the peacekeeping forces they say have failed to protect them.

Ousmane Abakar, a spokesman for Bangui’s small remaining Muslim community, denounced Wednesday’s attack on the church and has denied that the local Muslim population was to blame.  Speaking to reporters, Mr Abakar stated “for six months we have been the ones subjected to violence and the destruction of our mosques, including the one ruined in the Lakouanga neighbourhood this morning.”

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has also strongly condemned the recent attacks and has encouraged the transitional authority to do “everything within its means to prevent further violence in the capital and throughout the country.”  According to Mr Ban’s spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, the Secretary-General has also called on authorities to take “concrete measures to ensure that perpetrators are held accountable,” and has appealed to international forces in the CAR “to take all necessary measures in support of these efforts.”

Over the past few months, tens of thousands of Muslims have fled the capital city in a mass exodus following scores of attacks by Christian militia fighters who have blamed them for supporting the Seleka rebel regime, which was ousted from power in January.

Four Girls Return After Being Kidnapped

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While reports surfaced late Wednesday indicating that four more girls, kidnapped by Boko Haram militants last month, had escaped than previously believed, authorities in northeast Nigerian on Thursday revised the number and denied reports that the hostages had escaped from the militants in recent days.

On Wednesday, a source at the government in north eastern Borno state had indicated that the number of girls who are currently missing was now 219, not 223 as was previously reported.  Education commissioner Musa Inuwa confirmed that four girls have since been reunited with their parents.  A senior Borno state official also indicated that it remains unclear when they escaped, adding that it may have been several weeks ago, as the parents did not contact authorities when the girls returned.  However on Thursday, authorities in Borno denied these reports, adding that the 223 girls are still missing.

The girls were taking exams at a secondary school in the remote north eastern village of Chibok on April 14 when the militants surrounded it and loaded 276 girls onto trucks and carted them off.  According to authorities in Borno state, fifty-three escaped shortly afterwards.

Wednesday’s reports came just one day after Chief of Defense Staff Air Marshal Alex Badeh indicated that the Nigerian military knew where the abducted girls were but ruled out a rescue by force for fear that this would endanger them.  Currently, most officials believe that any raid to rescue the kidnapped girls would run a high risk and that the girls would be killed by their captors as, in the past, Boko Haram has repeatedly showed ruthlessness in targeting civilians.  The United States State Department also indicated Tuesday that it did not have information, which could “support Nigeria’s claim it has located the kidnapped girls.”

The girls abduction has placed the militant group in an international spotlight. Its violent bid to establish an Islamist state in northern Nigeria has killed thousands of people over the past five years and has transformed them into the biggest threat to security in Africa’s top-oil producing state, with international officials now fearing it will develop into a regional issue.


Al-Shabaab Claims Responsibility for Attack In Djibouti and Threatens Further Bombings

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Days after a terrorist attack in Djibouti, al-Shabaab has released a statement, claiming responsibility for the attack and vowing to continue if the Horn of Africa nation does not withdraw its troops from Somalia and prevents the United States from maintaining its largest military base in Africa.

On Saturday evening, three people were killed, including two bombers and a Turkish national, while several foreigners, including seven French nationals, four Germans, three Spanish and several locals, were wounded after an attack on the La Chaumiere restaurant.  In the first attack of its kind in the small Horn of Africa state, a man and woman blew themselves up at a restaurant that was filled with Western military personnel.  Officials from Spain indicated Monday that three of its air force personnel, in Djibouti as part of the European Union naval mission EUNAVFOR Atalanta were hurt, one of whom was seriously wounded by shrapnel.  The Pentagon has indicated that no US Defence Department personnel were wounded.

At the time of the attack, many officials, including the Djibouti’s President, believed that the attack was linked to Djibouti’s ongoing military deployment in Somalia, where troops make up the African Union mission (AMISOM) force that is battling al-Shabaab militants and attempting to stabilize Somalia.  Djibouti also hosts military base’s for France and the United States.  These suspicions was confirmed Tuesday, when al-Shabaab released a statement claiming responsibility for the attack.

On Tuesday, al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for the weekend bomb attack on a restaurant in Djibouti, urging the Horn of Africa nation and key Western ally to expel foreign forces and to shut down the United States’ main Africa base, or the country will face a wave of more serious attacks.

A group statement released Tuesday indicated “as part of the ongoing Jihad against the Western-led Crusade against Islam, Harakat Al-Shabaab Al Mujahideen forces have on Saturday night carried out a successful operation against the coalition of Western Crusaders based in Djibouti.”  The group stated that the attack “targeted a restaurant frequented predominantly by French Crusaders and their NATO allies from the US, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands, resulting in 35 casualties.”  The statement further added “the attack was carried out against French Crusaders for their complicity in the massacres and persecution of our Muslim brothers in the Central African Republic and for their active role in training and equipping the apostate Djiboutian troops in Somalia and their growing intervention in the affairs of our Muslim lands.”  While in its statement, al-Shabaab indicated that Saturday’s attack resulted in thirty-five casualties, adding that two “senior French commanders” were also killed, local officials have stated that only three people, a Turkish national and two suicide bombers, died in the attack, with several others wounded.

The group also indicated that the attack was carried out in retaliation for Djibouti’s hosting of the United States’ largest military base in Africa.  The US base is used for operations across the region, including drone strikes against the militant group in Somalia.  Troops from Djibouti are also part of the African Union (AU) force that is in Somalia to fight al-Shabaab.

A part of al-Shabaab’s statement was also directed at Djibouti’s President Ismail Omar Guelleh, stating “having assented to the terms of the contract in the war against Islam with Barack Obama and having allowed access of your land and facilities to the Crusaders, you have voluntarily signed a deal with the devil,” adding “this attack is just the beginning; its merely the preliminary response that will soon follow – should you refuse to desist – will be far worse.”  Al-Shabaab has called on Djibouti to “pull your apostate troops out of Somalia immediately and expel all the Crusaders,” adding “failure to do so would incur far-reaching repercussions for your country, both in terms of your security and economy.”

The attack in Djibouti comes a week after al-Shabaab warned that its war would be moving to Kenya.  The militant group has also previously threatened Uganda, another country that has troops deployed in Somalia, that it will attack its citizens.  Al-Shabaab has carried out many gun and bomb attacks outside of Somalia, including an assault on a Kenyan shopping mall last year that killed sixty-seven people.  The militant group also demonstrated its capabilities of travelling long distances in order to carry out attacks.  The attack in Djibouti came on the same day as the attack on the Somali parliament in Mogadishu, which killed at least ten security officers.