Police and residents reported Tuesday that an explosion ripped through a football viewing centre in Damaturu, northern Nigeria, as fans were gathering to watch a World Cup game.
The blast, which occurred at the Crossfire venue, in the Nayi-Nawa area of the state capital of Yobe, occurred shortly after the tournament began at 8:00 PM (1900 GMT). Unconfirmed reports have indicated that a suicide bomber has killed at least twenty-one people and wounded twenty-seven. Sanusi Ruf’ai, police commissioner for Yobe state, confirmed the attack, stating “there was an explosion outside a soccer viewing center here in Damaturu at around 8:15 PM….Our men have deployed to the scene but it’s too early for us to give details.” On the ground sources have reported that the area has been cordoned off and that police and soldiers are investigating, while eyewitnesses have indicated that the suicide bomber, who was in a tricycle taxi, detonated explosives as people were watching the match. While there was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blast, suspicions have fallen on Boko Haram, as the militant group has previously targeted big screen venues showing soccer matches.
The latest blast comes after at least two Nigerian states banned viewing centers on security grounds following previous similar attacks, which have been blamed on Boko Haram militants. Last week, authorities in Adamawa state closed viewing centers, where large crowds gather to watch the matches on large screens. The central state of Plateau followed suit days later. The decision by authorities to close the viewing centers is in response to repeated threats by the militant group and a blast that occurred earlier this month. A bomb went off after a football match in the town of Mubi in Adamawa state. The incident killed at least forty people. In May, three people were killed in a blast outside a viewing center that was showing the European Champions League final in the city of Jos, the capital of Plateau state, while in April, suspected Boko Haram gunmen stormed a packed venue in Potiskum, in northeastern Yobe state, shooting dead two people as they watched the Champions League quarter-final matches.
Boko haram’s leader Abubakar Shekau has previously preached against football and has threated to carry out attacks during this year’s World Cup football tournament. In several video clips, he described football and music as a Western ploy to distract Muslims from their religion. While football is Nigeria’s national sport, and has many followers, many residents living in the northern regions of the country have indicated that they will watch the World Cup at home because of fears of Boko Haram attacks.
Similar fears have also put a number of east African nations on high alert amidst fears that Somalia’s al-Qaeda-linked-al-Shabaab will carryout similar attacks during football screenings.
Earlier this week, officials in Britain released warnings to citizens in several east African nations, including Djibouti, Ethiopia and Kenya, warning of the threat of terrorist attacks at public screenings of the World Cup games. A statement released by Britain’s Foreign Office indicated “previous terrorist attacks in the region have targeted places where football matches are being viewed,” adding that crowded areas, including “transport hubs, hotels, restaurants and bars” are possible targets for the militant group.
11 April- A ship manned by al Qaeda militants and loaded with weapons arrived at Yemen’s port in Aden. As the militants began to unload the weapons, they clashed with from Yemen’s anti –smuggling unit, and re-boarded the ship. As the militants sailed away from the dock, they were followed by Yemeni coast guard and navy, however security forces lost the trail of the ship. It is reported that two militants were killed by security forces; however it is unclear whether they were killed in clashes at the port or on sea.The Yemeni Interior minister had issued a warning on 9 April that an al Qaeda ship had departed from Djbouti, and was thought to be loaded with weapons and heading to Aden, approximately 154 nautical miles away. The ship was thought to be manned by militants from Yemen’s eastern Hadramout province. During the 2011 Arab Spring, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) used the chaos to their advantage and seized control of vast areas in Yemen’s south, including Hadramout. Yemeni military and counter-terrorism efforts have allowed the nation to successfully recapture the land; however the region remains a stronghold for AQAP militants.
Yemen has experienced a large amount of weapons smuggling in recent years. Last year, a senior Yemeni official confirmed that weapons smugglers are taking advantage of the many small, unpopulated islands in the Red Sea to engage in criminal activities. The anonymous official said, “It is easy for large ships to unload their cargo there, with this later being smuggled into Yemen on smaller fishing boats.”
Arms are smuggled into Yemen for two main reasons: first, they are used in terror tactics and political by militants, and second, they are for financial profit, often being sold into nearby countries.
Yemen has a long coastline, approximately 2,200 km (1,367 miles), however Yemen does not have strong maritime security. The nation’s naval force consists of (as of 2011) only 1700 troop and 20 patrol ships. They lack sufficient personnel and equipment to effectively monitor their maritime coast. Officials have complained that large arms shipments are entering through the port, not only for use by AQAP, but also by Yemen’s Houthi (“Youth”) movement, an insurgent group that has been present in Yemen since 2004.
Days after a drone strike, carried out by US forces, targeted al-Shabaab militants in the southern Somali town of Jilib, government officials have confirmed that three senior al-shabaab commanders, including an explosives expert, have been killed.
On Tuesday, one day after the attack, residents near the site of the strike reported three people dead in a vehicle, which had burst into flames shortly after the sound of an aircraft was heard overhead. The drone strike had targeted a Suzuki four-wheel-drive as it made its way along a road leading rom Barawe, the site of failed night-time assault that was mounted by US special forces earlier this month, to Jilib in southern Somalia.
Amongst those killed in Monday’s drone strike was Ibrahim Ali Abdi, also known as Anta-Anta. According to Somalia Interior Minister Abdikarin Hussein Guled, Somalia’s intelligence services had been tracking him for some time before the drone strike was carried out. During a government radio interview, the minister stated that “the operation in which this many had been killed was very important for the government. This man had a major role in the death of many innocent civilians and his death will help in brining back peace.” The two other men who were killed in the strike were Abdikarim Kibi-Kibi and Warsame Baale, deputy commanders of two al-Shabaab units that control large areas of southern Somalia.
Somalia’s government officials have described Abdi as being the head of al-Shabaab’s bomb-making division. He was well-known for making suicide bomber vests and preparing car bombs that had been used regularly by militants in order to attack government officials and African Union peacekeepers. According to the Prime Minister’s spokesman, who noted that the Somali government had welcomed the strike, “he was al-Shabaab’s chief suicide bomb-maker, he was responsible for numerous bomb attacks which claimed the lives of many Somalis,” adding that “it is a victory for the Somali people that such dangerous individuals should be taken out.” So far, there have been no comments released by al-Shabaab, however the death of a top bomb-maker will likely force the group to reconfigure its operations as they train new militants to take over the role.
While Somali’s Interior Minister did not specify who was behind the drone attack, on official in Washington confirmed that the US army was responsible. While the official did not indicate where the drone was launched from, the US army operates these devices from its bases located in neighboring Djibouti and Arba Minch, in southern Ethiopia. Furthermore, the fact that such an operation was authorized by US President Barack Obama, signifies that officials in Washington will likely now go after operatives even if they have not directly targeted American interests.
The latest strike to target Somalia comes weeks after an audacious attack on the Westgate mall in Nairobi, which was claimed by al-Shabaab and which killed sixty-seven people. The missile strike also follows a raid that was carried out by US Navy SEALs on the southern port city of Barawe in early October. That mission however failed to hit the alleged target, Abdulkadir Mohamed Abdulkadir, a senior al-Shabaab militant leader who remains on the run.
The strike comes weeks after an audacious attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, which was claimed by al-Shabaab. It is also the missile strike also follows a raid that was carried out by US Navy SEALS on the southern port city of Barawe in early October. That mission failed to hit the alleged target, Abdulkadir Mohamed Abdulkadir, a senior al-Shabaab militant leader.
Interpol has issued a global security alert linked to a suspected al-Qaeda involvement in a string of recent prison outbreaks that have taken place in Iraq, Libya and Pakistan. The alert comes just days after the United States State Department issued a global travel alert and closed a number of Embassies because of fears of an unspecified al-Qaeda attack.
Citing prison breaks in three countries, Interpol has requested that its members examine whether or not al-Qaeda militants were behind the prison breaks. The police agency is also asking that member countries “swiftly process any information linked to these events.” In a statement that was released on Saturday, the French-based agency stated that “with suspected al-Qaeda involvement in several of the breakouts which led to the escape of hundreds of terrorists and other criminals, the Interpol alert requests the organizations 190 member countries‘ assistance in order to determine whether any of these recent events re coordinated or linked.” It also calls for Interpol to be informed “if any escaped terrorist is located or intelligence developed which could help prevent another terrorist attack.” The most recent escape occurred in north-west Pakistan, in which 248 prisoners escaped from a jail. On 30 July, Taliban militants used automatic weapons and bombs in order to break down the walls of the jail in Dera Ismail Khan. At least thirteen people, including six police officers, were killed during the attack. Authorities have since indicated that thirty of those who fled were “hardened militants” who were jailed for their involvement in a number of suicide bombings and other serious attacks. Meanwhile on 22 July, hundreds of inmates escaped from two jails in Iraq: Abu Ghraib, located to the west of Baghdad; and Taji, located to the north. Bombs and mortar fire were used to break into those two prisons in which al-Qaeda members were amongst those being housed in the facility.
US Extends Embassy Closure
Meanwhile the United States has announced that it will keep a number of embassies in northern Africa and in the Middle East closed until Saturday, due to a possible militant threat. After an announcement on Friday pertaining to a possible threat, twenty-one US embassies were closed on Sunday. On Monday, the State Department in Washington indicated that the extension of closures were “out of abundance of caution,” and not in reaction to a new threat. With the State Department announcing that the potential for an al-Qaeda-inspired attack being particularly strong in the Middle East and North Africa, the global travel alert will be in force until the end of August. Although US diplomatic missions in Algiers, Kabul and Baghdad remained open on Monday, its diplomatic posts in Abu Dhabi, Amman, Cairo, Riyadh, Dhahran, Jeddah, Doha, Dubai, Kuwait, Manama, Muscat, Sanaa and Tripoli will remain closed until Saturday. African missions including Antananarivo, Bujumbura, Djibouti, Khartoum, Kigali, and Port Louis are also on the list of closures. The US embassy in Tel Aviv, along with two consulates in Jerusalem and Haifa, were also closed on Sunday.
It is evident that security at US diplomatic facilities remains a concern following last year’s attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya, where the US ambassador, along with three other Americans, were killed. Officials in the United Kingdom also announced over the weekend that its embassy in Yemen would remain closed until the Muslim festival of Eid which will occur on Thursday. The UK Foreign Office is also advising against all travel to Yemen and is strongly urging British nationals in the country to leave. Several other European countries have also temporarily closed their missions in Yemen.
The embassy closures and US global travel alert came after the US reportedly intercepted al-Qaeda messages suggesting that they were between senior figures within the militant group who were plotting an attack against an embassy. While the details of the threat have remained unspecified, it is evident that those members of Congress who have been briefed on the intelligence, seem to agree that it amounts to one of the most serious in recent years, effectively pointing to the possibility of a major attack which may coincide with the end of the holy month of Ramadan, which ends this week.
In recent years, al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen, which is known as al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), has attempted to carry out several high profile attacks, including one on Christmas Day in 2009 in which a man attempted to blow up a trans-Atlantic jet over Detroit, using explosives that were sewn into his underwear. Months earlier, the militant group had also attempted to assassinate the Saudi intelligence chief by using a bomb that was attached to the attacker’s body.