On 8 January, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari stated that he was hopeful that the remaining 195 Chibok schoolgirls will be rescued, as the country marked 1,000 days since the mass abduction by Boko Haram that drew global attention to the jihadist insurgency.
President Buhari stated that his government was committed to finding the rest of the more than 200 schoolgirls who were abducted almost three years ago from the northeastern town of Chibok. Since being seized in April 2014, only two dozen have been found or rescued, some of whom had babies in captivity.
Earlier this month, the Nigerian army reported that it had rescued another Chibok girls, Rakiya Abubkar, along with her six-month-old baby. Another two schoolgirls have been found in the past year by troops and in October, 21 Chibok girls were released by Boko Haram after negotiations with the Nigerian government brokered by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Swiss government. The release was hailed as a breakthrough that would lead to the recovery of the remaining girls in captivity. At the time, presidential spokesman Garba Shehu disclosed that the Nigerian government was hoping to secure the release of 83 other girls, however there has since been no update on those negotiations.
Timeline of Chibok Kidnapping
- April 2014 – Boko Haram militants kidnap 276 schoolgirls from Chibok in the northeastern Nigerian state of Borno, a region where the insurgency emerged several years ago.
- November 2014 – Extremists seize Chibok and the Nigerian army takes back the town.
- May 2015 – Newly elected President Muhammadu Buhari is sworn into office, pledging to tackle Boko Haram “head-on.”
- 13 April 2016 – Boko Haram video appears to depict some of the Chibok girls, with mothers recognizing their daughters.
- 18 May 2016 – A relative discloses that one of the Chibok girls is found, pregnant, in a forest. Pressure increases on the Nigerian government to rescue the remaining missing girls.
- 14 August 2016 – Boko Haram video states that some of the Chibok girls have been killed in airstrikes. The militant group demands the release of extremists in exchange for the other girls’ freedom.
- 13 October 2016 – Spokesman for Nigeria’s president confirms that 21 Chibok schoolgirls have ben freed as a result of government negotiations with Boko Haram
- 5 November 2016 – Nigerian military announces the first army rescue of a Chibok girl, during a raid on a forest hideout.
- 24 December 2016 – Nigeria’s president declares that Boko Haram has been crushed as the militant group is driven from its last forest hideout.
- 5 January 2017 – Nigeria’s army states that soldiers have found one of the schoolgirls wandering in the bush near the forest stronghold.
Philippine officials have reported that two Islamic militants linked to the abductions of 26 Malaysia and Indonesian sailors this year were killed on 27 September in a military raid off a remote Philippine island.
The military operation on Tuesday occurred off Tambulian Island in the Sulu island group, which is a mainly-Muslim archipelago that is also an Abu Sayyaf stronghold. It is located about 1,000 km south of Manila. A statement released by the Philippine military disclosed that Nixon Muktadil and his brother Brown Muktadil, both of whom are members of the Abu Sayyaf group, died in “strike operations” by an anti-terror task force at dawn. The statement further disclosed that “the death of the Muktadil brothers is a major blow to the group…because they serve(d) as th sea guides and navigators during (the ) conduct of kidnapping at the high seas,” adding that the brothers helped kidnap the crewmembers of five tugboats that were carrying coal and other commodities in waters bordering Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines. According to the military, the kidnappings occurred over a six month period earlier this year. The spike in abductions resulted in officials warning that the region could become the “next Somalia.” The warning pushed the three neighbour states to pledge coordinated patrols.
Most of the twenty-six sailors are thought to have been released, however the Philippine government has disclosed that Abu Sayyaf is still holding five Indonesian hostages, however it remains unclear if they include any of the sailors. Earlier this month, the militant group freed four Indonesians and a Norwegian hostage. Earlier this year, it beheaded two Canadian hostages and released Indonesian and Malaysian sailors in batches.
Also on Tuesday, police announced that they arrested in Manila a Sulu politician who has been accused of having sold government-issue guns to the Abu Sayyaf group. According to officials, the raid on Saturday (24 September) on the house of Unding Kenneth Isa, turned up grenades, assault rifles and thousands of rounds of ammunition, most of them were government-issue weapons. Police have disclosed that Isa, who ran for vice governor of Sulu in May elections but lost, has been accused of sending weapons by ferry to the Abu Sayyaf group as well as other armed groups in the south.
A sudden spike in kidnapping in Guerrero and Baja California has coincided with the ongoing deterioration of the organised crime structures that dominate the two west Mexico states. According to statistics published by the NGO Observatorio Virtual, the kidnapping rate in Baja California and Guerrero ticked upward in the first three months of 2016.
In Guerrero, the registered figure of 2.34 kidnappings per 100,000 residents is only a slight bump from the 2.27 registered last year, but it bucks a long-term trend, as Guerrero registered substantial declines in 2014 and 2015. The figure is the third-highest of any Mexican state this year, and nearly three times the national average of 0.80 per 100,000 residents.
The kidnappings reported by Observatorio Virtual are concentrated in a relatively small number of Guerrero’s municipalities, largely along the coast and in several small inland towns. Over the past 12 months, General Canuto A. Neri and Pedro Ascencio Alquisiras, both inland towns with populations under 7,000, saw kidnapping rates of 16.03 and 14.17 per 100,000 residents, respectively. Cualac, a comparably sized town near the state’s border with Oaxaca, registered a rate of 13.99. The figure for Chilpancingo, the state’s capital, was 7.49.
While the prevalence of the crime in these hotspots was more than enough to make Guerrero one of the nation’s most dangerous states for abductions, 48 of the state’s 81 municipalities reported no kidnappings at all.
In Baja California, Observatorio Virtual’s data indicates circumstances that are largely better than in Guerrero. The border state’s kidnapping rate for 2016 is 0.68 per 100,000 residents, just below the national average and 10th among the 32 Mexican states. This would seem to indicate a situation that is under control. However, the recent trend is more alarming. Baja California’s kidnapping rate has more than doubled in 2016, driven by a rash of abductions in Tijuana, the state’s largest city. The kidnapping rate in Tijuana over the first three months of 2016 has more than doubled compared to 2015.
Kidnapping statistics are notoriously difficult to track, as many victims, believing that a ransom payment without the involvement of the police is the safest way to secure freedom, have a powerful disincentive to reporting it. As a result, any official kidnapping statistics vastly understates the real figure. But assuming these statistics reflect a genuine trend, and they probably do, then there are a few different factors likely driving them, with one in particular standing out.
One key factor specific to both states is the years-long decline of the dominant criminal groups in each: the Beltrán Leyva Organization (BLO) in Guerrero and the Tijuana Cartel in Baja California. Both have suffered years of setbacks with captures and killings decimating the leadership that built the organisations.
The Arellano Félix family, which built the Tijuana Cartel out of an offshoot of the Guadalajara Cartel in the 1990s, has virtually ceased to operate. Founders Ramón and Benjamín Arellano Félix were killed and arrested, respectively, in 2002. After inheriting the operation, their brothers Javier and Eduardo were arrested in 2006 and 2008. Other relatives and subordinates have also taken up the reins, but none — including Enedina Arellano Félix, the sister of the founders and reputed leader today — have managed to restore the group to its prior influence.
The result has been a period of substantial reorganisation in Baja California. Reports have been somewhat contradictory, with some sources describing attempts by Arellano Félix veterans to recapture their influence, while more recently a government official indicated that the Jalisco Cartel was moving into the area. Whatever the case — and these two possibilities are not mutually exclusive — no single group has control of Baja California.
Similarly, the BLO, once a dominant force along Mexico‘s southern Pacific coast, has declined precipitously. The erstwhile boss of the family, Arturo Beltrán Leyva, was killed in 2009 in a shootout with security officials in Cuernavaca, a tourist haven betweenMexico City and Guerrero. His brother Alfredo was captured shortly before then in an arrest that sparked the group’s split from the Sinaloa Cartel, while Carlos was arrested shortly after. The last holdout, Héctor Beltrán Leyva, was arrested in 2014.
The disintegration of the BLO has spawned a tangled network of splinter groups, such as Guerreros Unidos, Independent Cartel of Acapulco, Los Ardillos, Los Rojos, and many others. Without a hegemonic actor organising these groups and divvying up responsibilities and profits, they have naturally come into conflict with each other, as well as other new actors tempted by the power vacuum.
There are different explanations for this phenomenon, which has manifested itself around the country. One is that the single hegemonic group is able to outlaw certain behaviors among local criminals, acting as a sort of underworld police. But when the hegemon loses its control, and the real police aren’t able to step in to adequately punish kidnapping or other such crimes, then criminal actors are free to pursue actions that were previously beyond the pale.
Another related explanation is that the big groups tend to have the readiest access to drug producers, whether South American cocaine or Mexican heroin, and the means to move major shipments. In effect, this means access to high profit margins. When a larger organization disintegrates, the revenues that come with trafficking substantial amounts of drugs dry up as well. As a result, the smaller cells that operate within the newly weakened group must find ways to replace their lost income, with extortion and kidnapping in particular emerging to take the place of drug shipments.
It remains to be seen if the recent uptick in Guerrero and Baja California is a blip or the beginning of a new trend, but the collapse of the BLO and the Tijuana Cartel has certainly created the conditions for kidnapping to continue to rise in these troubled states.
Unidentiﬁed gunmen have kidnapped three foreign nationals and a Filipina from a resort on the Island Garden City of Samal in the restive southern Philippines.
Authorities have provisionally identiﬁed the kidnap victims as Robert Hall and John Ridsel, both Canadian citizens, Kjartan Sekkingstad, a Norwegian resort manager and an as yet unidentiﬁed Filipino woman. The four were abducted at around 11.41 pm last night during a raid on the Holiday Oceanview Resort near Davao city, the largest city on Mindanao island. Two more holidaymakers, Steven and Kazuka Tripp, narrowly avoided capture after successfully ﬁghting off the gunmen who attempted to board their yacht. While no group or individual has come forward to claimresponsibility for the incident, one of the resort’s employees is reported to have discovered a note at the entrance of the hotel which reads: “Justice for our commander: NPA.” NPA stands for New People’s Army, an insurgent group connected to the Communist Party of the Philippines. However, the region’s mayor has questioned the note’s authenticity, saying that the NPA “have no means of pulling off such kidnapping”.
Sources say that the kidnappers spoke English and Tagalog and that their choice of targets- yachts belonging to the hotel’s guests – suggests that from the outset their intended victims were foreign nationals. After a botched intervention by two Japanese tourists, the gunmen took their captives and ﬂed aboard two motorised outriggers. Filipino naval vessels, backed by two helicopter gunships, formed a blockade around Samal to prevent the kidnappers from reaching Basilan Island, but even after giving chase were unable to prevent their escape. Ground units in southeastern Mindanao were also alerted to the incident and have been patrolling possible landing sites ever since. However, at the moment of publication, the kidnappers remain at large and the hostages have not yet been rescued.
Ofﬁcials from the Philippine National Police Anti-Kidnapping Group say that kidnappings in Mindanao tend to be perpetrated by individuals or groups who are members of or allied to known terrorist organisations such as Abu Sayyaf and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). These groups see kidnapping as a way of funding their operations, which is why foreigners are often targeted. By contrast, in Manila and other areas north of Mindanao, kidnappings tend to be criminal rather than ideological in nature.
18 February– Egyptian and Libyan fighter jets conducted two waves of attacks in Derna, Libya, hours after ISIS militants released a video showing the beheading of 21 Coptic Christian Egyptians. The attacks targeted ISIS militant camps, training sites and weapons storage facilities.
The Coptic Christians, who were seeking work in Libya, were abducted in two separate incidents in the coastal town of Sirte. The first kidnapping occurred in late December, when the group was abducted at a fake checkpoint while attempting to leave the city. Days later in early January, ISIS militants raided a residential compound in Sirte. They separated Christians from Muslims before handcuffing their captives and taking them away. The hostages were featured in the latest edition of Dabiq, the English-language propaganda magazine created by ISIS. In the issue released last week, photos show the male hostages being marched along the coastline as their captors brandish knives.
Thirteen of the victims were from the same Egyptian village, al-Our, in the largely Coptic governorate of Minya. The Egyptian government has declared seven days of national mourning. In a televised address, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi described ISIS as “inhuman criminal killers”, adding, “Egypt and the whole world are in a fierce battle with extremist groups carrying extremist ideology and sharing the same goals.” Later in the day, Sisi visited St Mark’s Cathedral in Cairo to offer his condolences to Coptic Pope Tawadros II.
A statement released by the Egyptian military says, “And let those near and far know that the Egyptians have a shield that protects and preserves the security of the country, and a sword that eradicates terrorism.”
Mohamed Azazza, spokesman for Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni said that eight airstrikes had been conducted in Derna. He added, “The plan is to target all IS locations in the country wherever they are.” Libyan air force commander Saqer al-Joroushi said the Egyptian strikes had been co-ordinated with Mr Thinni’s government, and that Libyan planes had also carried out strikes. He reported that between 40 and 50 people had been killed in the first wave of strikes.
The murder of the Egyptian Copts signals that ISIS has intentions to strengthen their impact in Libya. ISIS has thrived in under-governed regions, such Syria, which is engaged in a protracted civil war, and Iraq, which under former Prime Minister Nouri al-Malaki was divided politically along sectarian lines. The group’s modus operandi has thus far been to establish bases in regions where the sense of nationalism and political power is fractured. The same is true of Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, where long ignored grievances led to the most violent aftermath of the Egyptian revolution in 2011. ISIS supporters declared a branch in Egypt in November.
Underlining this strategy, ISIS fighters have sought greater ground in Libya, which has been wracked with strife since their 2011 uprising, which saw the death of Dictator Moammar Gadhafi. Libya is now in the midst of a civil war creating a vacuum in which ISIS has been able to gain foothold. ISIS has a strong presence in Derna, and earlier this month they claimed to have captured the Libyan town of Nawfaliyah. Photos have emerged of a military-style parade in the town’s streets. In Sirte, ISIS fighters also claimed to have seized several key buildings, including radio and television stations and a passport office. Independent reports confirm that the group has been operating in and around Sirte.
In this light, it is likely that Egypt’s rapid military action is in part designed to strengthen the core of Egyptian nationalism and to send a message to the extremist group that they will not be tolerated by a united society in Egypt. Sisi may even adapt pages from Nasser’s playbook and encourage a call Pan-Arabic or Pan-Islamic unity. In doing so, he may simultaneously be encouraging nationalism in the long neglected Sinai Peninsula.
Sisi has also called for a UN resolution which would allow international forces to intervene in Libya. On French radio station Europe1, he said, “We abandoned the Libyan people as prisoners to extremist militias,” and called for weapons to be made available to Libya’s internationally recognised government, which fled to Tobruk after rival militias seized power in the capital.
Asked if he would order Egypt’s air force to strike again, he said: “We need to do it again, all of us together.” On Monday, Egypt signed a £3.8 billion defence deal with France, which includes the purchase of 24 advanced fighter jets. In addition to escalating the anti-terrorism fight in Sinai, it is likely that Egypt and Libya will continue to conduct joint strategic airstrikes in ISIS held territories in Libya. Very early and unconfirmed reports suggest that Italy may also consider mobilising troops against ISIS. Italy’s Interior Minister Angelino Alfano expressed the growing alarm and urged NATO to intervene. “ISIS is at the door,” he said. “There is no time to waste.”