MS Risk Blog

MENA Security Update (1 April 2013)

Posted on in Africa, Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Terrorism, Tunisia title_rule

 Terrorism

 Al-Qaeda Names Replacement Leader for North Africa

Al-Qaeda has named a replacement for Abdelhamid Abou Zeid, a key commander of its North African branch who was killed in fighting with French-led forces in northern.

Djamel Okacha, also known Yahia Aboul Hammam, is a 34-year-old from Reghaia, Algeria. His new position, which includes responsibility for AQIM operations in southern Algeria and northern Mali, still has to be approved at a meeting of AQIM leaders. Okacha is a close aide of AQIM chief Abdelmalek Droukdel and considered the “real leader” of the group.

His predecessor Abou Zeid, 46, was credited with having significantly expanded the jihadist group’s field of operation to Tunisia and Niger, and for kidnapping activities across the region.

Okacha, despite not having gone to Afghanistan, has had a meteoric rise in the group. Okacha spent around 18 months in prison in Algeria in the 1990s. As a member of extremist organisations the Armed Islamic Group (GIA) and the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GPSC), he was active in northern Algeria, and condemned to death by a court in southern Algeria for acts of terrorism.

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 AQIM Opens Official Twitter Account

Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has opened an official Twitter account on 16 March. Their first messages, sent on 28 March, targeted France, specifically threatening to kill French nationals that they have been holding hostage. At least 14 French nationals have been kidnapped between September 2010 and February 2013, and are currently being held hostage by militant groups in North Africa.

Their first tweet reads, “Will the French people succeed in convincing Hollande to save the lives of the hostages? @Andalus_Media.” A tweet the following day stated that AQIM cannot guarantee their safety to infinity.

Twitter accounts for AQIM have existed prior to this one, but the latest account is the first to be recognized by al-Fajr Media Center, al Qaeda’s propaganda group. The account gained over 2,000 followers in its first few days.

Kidnapping

Libya: Two men arrested in the kidnap of Humanitarian Activists

On 29 March, Libyan security officials announced the arrest of two men in the kidnapping of five British humanitarian activists in Eastern Libya. At least two of them were women who had been sexually assaulted. Authorities did not release the identities of the suspects, but did state they were Libyan soldiers. Officials also believe they are close to a third arrest.

The activists, all British citizens of Pakistani origin, were travelling with a convoy which had started in London and travelled through several North African countries, attempting to aid to Gaza. The travellers had no visas, according to Western authorities. At the Egyptian border, Egyptian guards refused to let the convoy enter. After five days of being stranded at the Egyptian/Libyan border, the five activists, including a father and two daughters, headed to Benghazi airport to leave Libya. The activists were abducted in a taxi at a checkpoint near Benghazi.

A diplomat stated that the men were beaten up and the women were sexually assaulted. Four captives were free soon after their abduction, however, the fifth, a woman, was found several hours later. Libya’s deputy prime minister, Awad al-Barassi, visited the victims in the hospital, and stated that the father saw his daughters being raped. The activists were given shelter at the Turkish Consulate in Benghazi, and left for Britain on Friday.

A Libyan defense official, Abdul Salam Bargathi, believes the episode was an “individual, isolated attack.”

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Sudan: 31 Kidnapped Darfuris Released after a week

On 30 March, Sudanese rebels released 31 Darfur is who were kidnapped on their way to a conference for people displaced by the Sudanese decade-long war.

The joint African Union-United Nations peacekeeping mission (UNAMID) was escorting three buses carrying the Darfur is when it was stopped by a “large unidentified armed group in military uniforms and seven jeep-mounted guns.” The armed group took the hostages to an unknown location.

The incident occurred in on the border between Central and South South Darfur State. UNAMID has conflicting reports about whether the displaced people have been released. Government sources have not confirmed any release.

On Saturday, the International Committee for the Red Cross said a faction of the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA), one of the main Darfur rebel groups, had released the men and handed them over to the Red Cross.

Algeria

Algerian activists barred from World Social Forum

On 25 March, Algerian barred 96 civil activists from travelling to Tunisia without reason, illegally restricting rights to free movement. The activists intended to attend the World Social Forum, a global gathering of around 50,000 activists on areas such as human rights and the environment.

Activists included members of the Algerian League for Human Rights, the National Autonomous Union of Public Administration Staff (SNAPAP), and other non-governmental organizations. After a three hour delay at the Layoun border crossing, Algerian officials would not let them through, claiming “that they have instructions”, according to Mourad Tchiko, a member of SNAPAP

A similar incident occurred in February; Algerian police arrested and expelled 10 foreign nationals from the Association of Unemployed Workers of the Maghreb in February. The travellers, five Tunisians, three Mauritanians and two Moroccans, were planning to attend the first Maghreb Forum for the Fight against Unemployment and Temporary Work in Algiers. They were held at the local police station for several hours before being taken to the airport to return home.

“The Algerian authorities are disrupting the legitimate activities of local human rights and civil society activists, as they have so many times before,” said Eric Goldstein, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “It is high time they end their campaign of harassment and intimidation of reform advocates, and observe their obligations under international law.”

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Wife and Children of Gadhafi Missing in Algeria

The wife of  late dictator Moammar Gadhafi, and three of his children, have gone missing from their Algerian home, where they have taken refuge since 2011. Safia Gadhafi, the dictator’s second wife, their daughter Aisha, and two of their sons, Hannibal and Muhammad, appear to have fled their home in the coastal community of Staoueli.

Algerian political spokespeople believe it is possible they have joined with former Gadhafi fighters in Mali, however it is also likely that the family has taken offers for asylum from Oman and Venezuela. Aisha and Hannibal Gadhafi are on an Interpol list which calls for their immediate arrest.

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Kabylie: Algerian security forces kill Islamists

On 28 March, Algerian special forces killed five Islamists in a raid in Attouche, near the Kabylie city of Tizi Ouzou.

Among those killed were Badache Said, 39, who led the Ibn el-Moqafa militia, and Nouali Hamza. Both were were handed death sentences in absentia last week along with 33 others, including AQIM leader Abdelmalek Droukdel.

All five were implicated in an attack on an Algerian army barracks at Azazga near Tizi Ouzou in April 2011, in which 17 soldiers were killed.

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Qatar-Algeria Joint venture for Steel Production

On 27 March, Industries Qatar announced that the governments of Qatar and Algeria have entered into a joint venture to build a steel production plant in Algeria. Industries Qatar has interests in petrochemicals, fertilisers and steel products. The planned steel complex will have a total annual production capacity of 4 million metric tonnes. The steel complex will cost $2bn in its first phase.

The project is anticipated to create over 1,000 direct jobs and thousands of indirect jobs. Algeria, represented by Sider and Fonds National D’investissement, will hold 51 percent of the new company, while Qatar Steel International will hold the remaining 49 percent. The facility is expected to take 42 months to construct, and commercial production is expected to start in 2017.

Egypt

Three Divers Arrested for Attempting to Cut Undersea Internet Cable

On 27 March, Egyptian authorities arrested three divers who were trying to cut through an undersea internet cable in the waters of Alexandria. The damaged cable caused a drop in the speed of online services in Egypt and some other countries.

The divers were arrested while attempting to cut the undersea wires of the main telecommunications company, Telecom Egypt. The damaged cable was the South East Asia Middle East Western Europe 4 (SEA-ME-WE 4), a critical cable under the Mediterranean. Cable operator Seacom said several lines connecting Europe with Africa, the Middle East and Asia were hit, slowing down internet services.

The arrested men are due to be interrogated. Their motive has not been made public.

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Egyptian Satirist Arrested, Released on Bail

On 1 April, Bassem Youssef, the Middle East’s most popular TV satirist, was issued with an arrest warrant and questioned by Egypt’s top prosecutor for allegedly insulting Islam and the Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi. Youssef, regarded as Egypt’s Jon Stewart, turned himself in following the issue of an arrest warrant by prosecutor general Talaat Abdallah. He was released on bail of 15,000 Egyptian pounds (£1,500) after being questioned for three hours. According to Heba Morayaf, director of Human right watch in Egypt, it heralds the most serious affront to free speech since associates of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood assumed power.

Youssef became an increasingly notable figure following Egypt’s 2011 uprising. His show, “al Bernameg” humorously critiques politics, fundamentalist clerics, and Morsi. With over than 30 million viewers across the Middle East, the show is a beacon for free-speech in the region. Youssef has been sued several times by private individuals, but this is the first time that the prosecutor general followed up one of the complaints with legal action, a signal that President Morsi’s Brotherhood-backed regime is now prepared to take a harsher stance against its critics.

Mohamed ElBaradei, the leader of Egypt’s main opposition coalition, said on Twitter, “Pathetic efforts to smother dissent and intimidate media is a sign of a shaky regime and a bunker mentality”

Youssef, however took a light-hearted approach, arriving at court in a comically large version of a graduation hat worn by Morsi at a ceremony in Pakistan, and tweeting (and later deleting) comments such as, “Police officers and lawyers at the prosecutor-general’s office want to be photographed with me, maybe this is why they ordered my arrest?”

Last week, Morsi promised to take necessary measures against opposition figures that incited what he called violence and rioting, but also has spread his targets to vocal members of the media. Youssef’s arrest comes just a day after nine opposition activists and four lawyers were arrested in Alexandria, and a week after legal proceedings against five activists for inciting violence against the Muslim Brotherhood.

The prosecutor-general, who is considered politicized in his support for Brotherhood, was appointed after Morsi circumvented constitutional protocol to promote him in November. Last week, a judge this week ruled that Abdallah’s appointment was illegal – but he has refused to step aside.

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Parliamentary Elections Possible for October

On March 27, President Morsi said that Egypt’s parliamentary elections are likely to be held in October. While in Doha, Qatar, for the Arab League Summit, Morsi met with overseas Egyptians and revealed that the first session of the People’s Assembly (the lower house of the parliament) would be held before the end of 2013.

Morsi also stated that he expected that the Shura Council (upper house of the parliament) to complete drafts of parliamentary election law within two weeks, to deliver to the Supreme Constitutional Court for approval. On Tuesday, the Shura Council approved a new draft for regulation of parliamentary elections “in principle.”

On March 6, the Supreme Administrative Court suspended a presidential decree of holding parliamentary elections on April 22, citing fourteen claims against the constitutionality of the newly- drafted election law to Supreme Constitutional Court. The Court will review the appeal against the suspension of parliamentary elections on April 7.

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 Egyptian Government Plans to Ration Subsidized Bread

The Egyptian government has announced plans to start rationing subsidized bread. The plan has outraged bakers and millions of families with few other food options than state-subsidized pita.

The announcement comes in the wake of cuts of State payments to private bakers, which are intended to keep the price of bread low. Egypt has subsided bread since the 1950s. The current administration has said the country’s weak economy has made the subsidies too expensive to keep up.

Hundreds of bakers travelled to Cairo in protest. Without the subsidies, they will be unable to stay in business. Subsidized bakers are required by law to sell a large portion of their production at low prices set by the state.

In an effort to appease the bakers and limit demand for cheap bread, the government has limited purchase of the commodity to three loaves per customer. Rationing has stirred up anger among low-income Egyptians who rely on the cheap bread as critical part of their diet. A similar attempt at rationing in 1977 resulted in riots throughout Egypt. Threats of a similar event caused the government to postpone implementing rationing last week.

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Post-Revolution Egypt sees Spike in Tomb Raiding

Since the 2011 revolution, Egypt has seen a spike in illegal digging near tombs in hopes of accessing rare archaeological treasures. Recently, large holes have been appearing in the ground at the Great Pyramids of Giza, and In Dahshur, near the Bent Pyramid.

Gunmen have also attacked storehouses at Saqqara and Abusir, which held yet-unregistered antiquities recovered from excavations. It is unknown how much has been stolen.

In Luxor, police have discovered vast tunnel networks, starting within a compound close to the ancient sites or even inside a home.

The police chief has downplayed the problem, dismissing the likelihood of undiscovered tunnels and insisting everything that had been stolen to date had been recovered. Yet antiquities over 3,000 years old are appearing by the crate-load on the black market.

Libya

Libyan Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff Feared Abducted

Officials in Libya have report that the Libyan prime minister’s chief of staff has disappeared and may have been abducted during a series of confrontations between the government and militiamen in Tripoli.

The prime minister’s office lost contact with Mohamed Ali Ghatous on Sunday. Ghatous’ car was found on the side of a road in the outskirts of Tripoli. Security forces are searching for him; officials say he may have been abducted.

Since the civil war, Libya has been working to rebuild a unified security force, however the government depends on militias to fill the security vacuum. Recently, militias, some who act with impunity, have taken offense at statements by ministers suggesting they needed to be brought under control.

Earlier in March, Prime Minister Ali Zidan was besieged in his office by militiamen who demanded his removal over remarks in which he threatened to summon outside help to confront the armed groups. On the same day that Ghatous disappeared, dozens of militiamen conducted a day-long siege, surrounding the Justice Ministry and calling for minister Salah al-Marghani’s resignation. Al-Marghani said on Libyan TV that some of the militias were illegitimate and were operating illegal prisons, and he demanded that the militias relinquish control to the Justice Ministry.

Zidan and al-Marghani held a joint news conference on Sunday, emphasizing that militias would be held accountable for any attacks.

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Gunmen attack Libyan Airbase

On 30 March, more than 150 gunmen attacked an air base in Libya’s southern desert about 30 miles north of Sabha. The attackers were heavily armed and clashed with government forces, killing a colonel and a soldier, and wounding two troops.

The assailants were identified as Libyan, but an investigation is underway to determine who they were.

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Extremists bomb 500-year-old Sufi shrine in Tripoli

A Libyan security official says that suspected Islamic extremists have bombed an ancient Sufi shrine in Tripoli. The attackers planted explosives inside the Sidi Mohammed al-Andalousi, and detonated them from a distance early on March 28.

Hard-line Salafis, an offshoot of Islam, oppose the veneration of saints, believing it to undermine the Islamic belief in monotheism. Salafis in Mali, Somalia and Tunisia have targeted the tombs of saints. The country’s grand cleric has since issued a religious edict against such assaults.

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Egyptian Government extradites Gadhafi- era Libyan Officials

In Egypt’s first high-profile extradition in years, Egyptian authorities extradited two Libyan officials from the regime of deposed dictator Moammar Gadhafi back to Libya on 26 March. The 71-year-old former ambassador to Cairo, Ali Maria, and 44-year-old Mohammed Ibrahim Gadhafi, were handcuffed after resisting the extradition.

Last week, Gadhafi aide and cousin Ahmed Qaddaf al-Dam, a former high-ranking intelligence official, surrendered to police in Cairo after hours-long siege at his home. He remains in detention in Egypt.

Libya has demanded that Egypt extradition of officials from the former regime over various charges, including corruption and involvement in the country’s civil war. On 28 March, a Libyan intelligence delegation provided Egyptian officials a list of 88 names for extradition. A previous list included 40 names.

Egypt’s former President Hosni Mubarak had close ties to the Libyan dictator. Human rights groups said Cairo allowed Libyan intelligence to kidnap members of the anti-Gadhafi opposition. However, Egypt has historically been reluctant to deliver exiled officials from ousted regimes.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia considers banning Skype, WhatsApp, and Viber

Saudi Arabia considering a potential block of messaging and real-time chat services. “Some telecom applications over the Internet protocol currently do not meet the regulatory conditions” in the kingdom, said the Communications and Information Technology. These apps— which include Skype, Viber, and Whatsapp— allow voice, video and text communication over the internet, but do not allow exchanges to be monitored by government agencies.

Industry sources said that authorities asked telecom operators to furnish a means of control that would allow censorship in the absolute monarchy. The providers have been given a week to comply.  One source claims that telecom operators were behind the move, asking the commission to impose censorship because of the “damage” caused by free applications.

Recent political protests, which are illegal in Saudi Arabia, have been partially organized via WhatsApp. When the same issue arose with BlackBerry in 2010, it resulted in temporary suspension of Blackberry Messenger services, until an eventual deal between RIM and the Saudi government removed the suspension. The details of the agreement are not public

If similar deals are struck with these currently private apps, it is anticipated that individuals who people wish to maintain private communications will move on to other tools.

In the UAE, most Skype applications and Viber calls are blocked; WhatsApp remains accessible. The Saudi public will the companies reactions closely.

Tunisia

Tunisia Salafists threaten Ennahda

On March 27, the leader of Tunisia’s Salafist jihadist movement threatened to topple the prime minister. It is the first direct threat to Tunisia’s Islamist-led government, Ennahda.

Saif Allah bin Hussein (aka Abou Iyadh), leader of Ansar al-Sharia, addressed a message to Ennahda published on Ansar al-Sharia’s Facebook page. “Hold back your sick person from us or else we’ll wage a war against him until we topple him and throw him into the dustbin of history.” It continued, “We won’t talk much, you’ll see and not just hear the response… if you don’t hold him back.” Abou Iyadh is wanted in connection with the deadly attack on the US embassy in Tunis last September.

The threat came a day after Prime Minister Ali Larayedh blamed Abou Iyadh for the spread of arms and increase of violence in Tunisia. In the past months, Tunisian security forces have found several weapons caches, detained many Salafist jihadists, and clashed with militants on the Algeria border.

Tensions between Ennahda and Ansar al-Sharia have been escalating since December, when embassy attack suspects Bechir Golli and Mohammed Bakhti died in Mornaguia prison after a 50-day hunger strike. Salafist jihadists blamed the government for their deaths.

“Our relations with Ennahda [have] been severed in full because that party is not Islamist as they so claim,” said Ansar al-Sharia spokesperson, Mohamed Anis Chaieb. “This is because they embrace the civil state concept, and there is nothing in their programmes indicating that they are adopting the Islamic rule model.”

al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri attacked Ennahda for failing to use Islamic Sharia as a main source of legislation. Ennahda leader Rached Ghannouchi responded strongly, calling al-Zawahri, a catastrophe for Islam and Muslims.

Tunisian citizens are concerned that the conflict between the Salafists and Ennahda will threaten the country’s political and social stability. There is fear that the increasing enmity on both sides will have serious repercussions in the country.

Largest Cyber Attack in History Slows Internet Worldwide

Posted on in Cyber title_rule

Internet around the world has been slowed down in what security experts are calling the biggest Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks in Internet history. Five national cyber-police-forces are investigating the attacks.

Background:

The attacks originally targeted Spamhaus, a European, non-profit anti-spam organisation. Spamhaus blacklists what it considers sources of email spam, and sells those blacklists to Internet Service Providers (ISPs). Last week, Spamhaus blacklisted controversial Dutch web hosting company, Cyberbunker, which claims willingness to host website with the exception of child pornography or terrorism-related material.

Following the blacklisting, the attacks began as waves of large but typical DDoS assaults. Spamhaus has alleged that Cyberbunker is behind the attack. Cyberbunker has not directly taken responsibility for the attacks; however Sven Olaf Kamphuis, spokesman for Cyberbunker, said that Spamhaus was abusing its position, and should not be allowed to decide “what goes and does not go on the internet”.

How the Attacks Happened:

The attackers used Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS), which floods the target with large amounts of traffic, rendering it unreachable. Picture a door with thousands of people standing on outside of it. Everyone is trying to enter, and no one can get out. This is the equivalent of a DDoS attack.

In most common DDoS attacks, hackers use thousands of “zombie” computers to send traffic to a particular site, with the intention of overloading it. These computers have often been infected with malware (most often received through spam email), which gives a hacker control of the machine, unbeknownst to its owner. Hackers can amass large networks of these infected computers, called “botnets”, and use them to conduct attacks.

Once the attacks began, Spamhaus immediately hired a security firm, CloudFlare, which enacted systems to prevent the DDoS from making a large impact. The attackers then changed tactics and targeted network providers of CloudFlare. To do this, they exploited a fault in the Domain Name System (DNS). The DNS converts a web address into a numeric IP address. A DNS resolver finds the connection from the IP address to the server, which then delivers content to a user’s computer. If a network is set up incorrectly, an open resolver can become an easily exploited vulnerability.

In this case, the hackers identified 25 million vulnerable DNS servers worldwide which could be used for attack, and instructed those vulnerable servers to forward an initial attack. Thus the attack, which was initiated at a single location, was amplified millions of times by exploited DNS servers around the world.

Global Impact and Prevention

Because the Internet relies on DNS to work, a large scale, DNS amplified DDoS attack can have consequences beyond the scope of the attack. Part of the internet infrastructure which connects all the servers on the internet was getting overloaded. This would result in delays or unresponsiveness to completely unrelated websites that share the same lines that Spamhaus is using.

Some Internet Service Providers have been working to implement technologies which prevent hackers from spoofing victims’ IP addresses. But the process is slow. Network administrators need to close all open DNS resolvers running on their network.

If a company operates a network, they should visit openresolverproject.org, and type in the IP addresses of their network. This will show if there is an open resolver on their network. If there is, it is more than likely to be used by criminals to launch attacks such as these.

 

 

Banks Must Query Risks in Africa

Posted on in Africa title_rule

Banks financing projects and trade in Africa are being urged to get more involved in security management to avoid losses.

Speaking at law firm Thomas Cooper’s trade finance seminar in London, MS Risk international security advisor Liam Morrissey told bankers security risk management is not just an insurance or operations problem.

“There needs to be improved linkage between the investors and financiers of these projects and the insurance companies underwriting them, working better with the operators. When you put US$100mn into a project in Africa, you need to look at the security risks and how they will be managed; that’s not just an operational thing.”

He pointed out that borrowers don’t necessarily highlight security problems when asking for finance “for fear of scaring [banks] off”, and that therefore, banks should always query these issues.

During his presentation on the various risks impeding business in Africa, including corruption, kidnapping and terrorist attacks, Morrissey said these risks would continue to increase in the next few years, but would not deter investors from coming into the continent due to its undeniable potential.

“There’s a great potential for companies that go to Africa to generate wealth and if some of you are not involved in African project at the moment, the day is coming when you will be.

“The disenfranchise [from rebel groups] will continue to grow, which will mean more threats, more attacks, more involvement from foreign powers, but despite all that, commerce will also continue to grow. Burkina Faso for example has now shifted from a cotton-based economy to a gold-based economy. Mali is continuing to mine gold despite the trouble it is having. 8% of the world’s uranium is provided out of Niger, and the French nuclear industry is powered from this uranium,” he told the audience and GTR.

Africa has proven extractable stocks of energy resources of oil, natural gas, coal, uranium valued at US$13-14.5tn, and holds 70% of the world’s strategic minerals.

On top of corruption, blackmail and extortion, kidnapping, terrorist attacks and medical threats, Morrissey mentioned the risk of shrinkage, which according to him is often overlooked, pointing to a report that Shell is losing 60,000 barrels a day in Nigeria. “Some of it is lost through theft, some of it through inefficient pipelines, some of it through waste, but that’s a significant amount of loss,” he said.

Morrissey advised banks to get involved in the risk assessment process, know how much of the overall project cost is being spent on security, and liaise with insurance companies to ensure the adequate crisis management processes are in place.

~ Article courtesy of GTR.

Bombings and Gun Attacks Continue in Kano; New Attacks in Ganye

Posted on in Cameroon, Nigeria title_rule

This past week has seen a number of gun attacks and suicide bombings in the northern region of Nigeria, specifically in Kano and in the eastern border town of Ganye.  Police have confirmed that suspected Islamist gunmen have launched a series of gun and bomb attacks in a remote town near the border with Cameroon.  At least twenty-five people have died in the town of Ganye after gunmen attacked a prison, police station, bank and bar.  The most recent attack in Nigeria’s northern region comes just days after two suicide bombers exploded their car at a bus station in Kano.

The simultaneous attacks that occurred in Ganye have killed at least twenty-five people. Ganye, Nigeria   According to the police spokesman for the western Adamawa state, Mohammed Ibrahim, the gunmen carried out four simultaneous assaults in Ganye, which is located in the Adamawa state.  They opened fire on a bar, a bank, a prison and a police station.  The gunmen also set free an unspecified number of prisoners.  The police spokesman further noted that the men used explosives and assault rifles in the attack on the police station, during which a policeman was shot.  Seven people were shot in the bar, six near the bank while the others were gunned down either outside their homes or on the streets.  Troops and policemen who have been deployed to the town have recovered three unexploded bombs, a Kalashnikov rifle and some rounds of ammunition, which were left by the attackers.  Although no group has claimed responsibility for the attack, police are suspecting Boko Haram militants to be behind it as the raids resemble previous ones, which have been claimed by the group.  Currently, no arrests have been made.

The town of Ganye is located some 100 km (60 miles) from the state capital of Yola.  Although it is located near the border with Cameroon, it is not near the area where a French family of seven were kidnapped and taken across from Cameroon into Nigeria last month. The family – a couple, their children (all under the age of twelve) and an uncle – were kidnapped by six gunmen on three motorbikes in Sabongari, which is located 7km from the northern village of Dabanga.  Sources close to the French embassy in Cameroon had indicated that the family had earlier visited Waza national park.  While the exact border-crossing route taken by the kidnappers remains unknown, it is highly likely that the militants would have remained near the area and crossed over into Nigeria shortly after the kidnapping.  As such, while Ganye is too far south from the general area where the family was taken, it is highly likely that the militants may have crossed the border area closer to Maiduguri, which is a known Boko Haram stronghold.

Daganda, Cameroon

Violence carried out by Islamist insurgents throughout Northern Nigeria has been on the rise in the past weeks after a brief calm.  On Saturday, three bombs exploded in the North’s main city of Kano.  According to Kano state police spokesman Magaji Majia, one
of the bombings was a suicide attack, however the incident claimed no lives apart from the bomber.  In a separate incident, a remote-controlled bomb that targeted a joint military and police checkpoint did wound a number of police officers.  A separate gun attack in the city’s Dakata district also killed one person on Saturday.  According to Kano state police spokesman, four people have been arrested in connection with the attacks.

On Monday, March 18 a bomb blast, which targeted a bus station in an area of Kano that is mostly inhabited by southern Christians, killed at least 41 people and wounded 65.  The attack occurred when two suicide bombers exploded their car into a bus station in Kano, setting off a large explosion that hit five buses.  Witnesses have described hearing multiple blasts and seeking wounded victims fleeing the area as authorities cordoned off the scene.  The bus station that was targeted in Monday’s attack primarily services passengers who are heading south to the mostly Christian regions of the country.  The bus station was previously attacked in January 2012, a blast which left a number of wounded civilians.  So far, authorities have not provided any information relating to who is behind this latest bombing.  Furthermore there has been no claims of responsibility, however this attack is similar to the hit-and-run tactics that are favored by Boko Haram militants.

With more suicide attacks and bombings occurring every week in the northern region of the country, it is becoming evident that the Nigerian government is finding it difficult to Maiduguri, Nigeriaadequately manage Boko Haram and related criminal gangs who have overtaken militancy in the oil-producing south-eastern Niger Delta region as the main threat to the stability of Africa’s oil producer.  Furthermore, while the town of Ganye is located further south, and away from the cities of Kano and Maiduguri, which have been hit by a number of attacks over the past few months, it demonstrates the capabilities of Boko Haram and similar criminal groups in carrying out hit-and-run attacks outside of the normal regions where they are known to operate.  It indicates that the militants throughout this region of Nigeria are able to freely move around to stage attacks, signifying that they may also be able to cross over the border into Cameroon in order to carry out attacks and to kidnap westerners.  It is also believed that Boko Haram may have members in Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger and Chad.

France Confirms Death of Abou Zeid

Posted on in Mali title_rule

The French Presidency has confirmed that death of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) commander Abdelhamid Abou Zeid, stating that he was killed in fighting in Mali.  While this confirmation has ended weeks of speculation about whether one of the group’s leading commanders had been killed, it nevertheless increases fears for the lives and safety of the remaining fourteen French hostages who are being held in captivity in the Sahel region.

The death of Abdelhamid Abou Zeid, a senior figure in AQIM, has been confirmed by France, which noted that DNA samples had made it possible to formally identify him.  A statement released by the Elysee Presidential Palace indicated that “the President of the French Republic confirms with certainty the death of Abdelhamid Abou Zeid after an offensive by the French army in the Adrar des Ifoghas mountains in the north of Mali, at the end of February.”  The statement went onto say that the death of “one of the main leaders of AQIM marks an important stage in the fight against terrorism in the Sahel region.”

Mali

Last month, officials in Chad had claimed that Chadian forces fighting alongside French troops in northern Mali had killed Abou Zeid on 22 February.  Days later, reports surfaced that fellow militant Mokhtar Belmokhtar was also killed in fighting that occurred in the mountainous regions of northern Mali.  The fate of Mokhtar Belmokhtar, who was reportedly killed on 2 March 2013, has yet to be confirmed.  Although AQIM formally acknowledged the death of Abou Zeid, officials in France made little comment regarding his death, stating that while it is “probable” that the commander was killed in fighting, the death would not be confirmed by French officials until a body was produced and verification through DNA testing was completed.  Speculation mounted that France’s reluctance in confirming the death of Abou Zeid was due to fears that the remaining French hostages may be used as human shields during bombing raid, or that they could be subjected to reprisal executions.

Abou Zeid, who is believed to be 47, was a pillar of AQIM.   Considered to be one of the most radical AQIM leaders, he is responsible for the death of at least two European hostages as well as the leader of the extremist takeover of northern Mali in March 2012.  In June 2009, his men kidnapped British tourist Edwin Dyer.  According to a number of eye witness reports, Abou Zeid personally beheaded the British national.

While the death of Abou Zeid was confirmed by members of AQIM weeks ago, France’s official acknowledgement and confirmation may result in militant rebels in Mali carrying out retaliatory hit-and-run attacks in an attempt to place increased pressure on France to withdraw its military intervention.  Likewise, the lives of the French hostages will likely be in jeopardy as they may be executed in retaliation for his death.  Unconfirmed reports released earlier this week indicated that a French hostage had been executed in Mali on 10 March 2013.  A man claiming to be a spokesman for AQIM stated that Philippe Verdon was “killed on 10 March in response to the French military intervention in the north of Mali.”  While there was no mention of his execution being directly linked to the death of Abou Zeid, it is highly likely that today’s confirmation by France may lead to further executions which will undoubtedly be blamed on his death.