According to residents, an air strike in southern Somalia has killed two senior al-Shabaab commanders. Meanwhile in Niger, a number of travellers are feared to have died of thirst while attempting to cross the Sahara on their way to Europe.
According to local residents, an air strike destroyed the vehicle of al-Shabaab militants who were travelling in between the towns of Jilib and Barawe, which is seen as a major base of al-Shabaab. A Kenyan military source has indicated that their troops raided Jilib however it is unlikely that they carried out the airstrike. Reports have indicated that the strike was probably a drone attack. Jilib is located some 120 kilometers (75 miles) north of the port city of Kismayo. The air strike comes weeks after the US launched a failed raid in Barawe earlier this month. The US was believed o have sought to capture al-Shabaab commander Abdukadir Mohamed Abdukadir, also known as Ikrima, whoever US commands were forced to retreat after meeting heavy resistance. Ikrima is an al-Shabaab leader who is responsible for logistics. According to residents of Barawe, he is known to be usually accompanied by about twenty well-armed guards.
The US has previously carried out a number of air strikes in Somalia. In 2008, a US strike killed al-Shabaab commander Aden Hashi Ayro. One year later, another strike killed Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan. He was accused of being involved in the 1998 bombing of the US embassy in Nairobi along with the 2002 attacks on a hotel and airline in Mombasa.
Meanwhile in Niger, officials have stated that dozens of people traversing the Sahara desert, on their way to Europe, are feared to have died of thirst. According to the governor of Agadez, five bodies have been found while a further thirty-five are missing after a vehicle carrying the passengers broke down, forcing them to set off in order to seek help. The bodies found are of two women and three girls aged 9 – 11. The rest of the travellers consisted of “entire families, including very many children and women.”
Reports have indicated that after one vehicle broke down, passengers went to look for spare parts in order to bring them back for repairs. It is believed that the migrants broke up into small groups. Days later, the survivors, who reached Arlit, a town known for its uranium mining, alerted the army however the troops arrived too late at the scene. The authorities have called off the search for the missing. According to the mayor of Agadex, Rhissa Feltou, two vehicles had left the town of Arlit, which is located north of Agadez, earlier this month. They were carrying “at least” sixty migrants. The city of Agadez lies on one of the main migrant routes from West Africa to Europe.
Over the past month, hundreds of migrants have died after their boats sans as they attempted to cross the Mediterranean Sea.
Al-Qaeda’s north African branch has released a video depicting seven kidnapped Westerners. The video was received by Mauritanian news agency ANI, which indicates that all the captives seemed to be in good health. France’s Foreign Ministry has announced that the hostage video seems to be “credible.”
The newly released video depicts seven hostages, including four Frenchmen and a Dutchman, who were kidnapped from a uranium compound in northern Niger exactly three years ago; along with a Swede and a South African who were abducted from a hostel in Timbuktu in northern Mali November 2011 in an attack that left a German man dead. In the video, which was released to Mauritanian news agency ANI, Frenchman Daniel Larribe, 61, introduces himself as the head of the French group, stating that he was kidnapped by militants belonging to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). According to ANI, Mr. Larribe states that he is “…in good health but threatened with death,” adding that he holds the French authorities responsible for his fate. The video also includes statements from the other French hostages, including Pierre Legrand, Theirry Dol and Marc Feret as well as South African Stephen Malcolm, Dutchman Sjaak Rijke and Swede Johna Gustafsson. It also shows the French hostages reportedly urging the French administration, as well as their family members, to work for their release. At the time of their kidnapping, the four Frenchmen were mostly working for French public nuclear giant Areva and its subcontractor Satom. They were kidnapped in Arlit, northern Niger, on 16 September 2010. At the time, Daniel’s wife, Francoise Larribe, was also captured however she was released in 2011.
Although it remains unclear when the video was made, officials from ANI have indicated that the messages recorded by the French hostages were made in June of this year. Furthermore, this is the first video that is said to depict the men since France launched an intervention in Mali in January after al-Qaeda-linked militants threatened to overrun the capital Bamako.
According French Foreign Ministry spokesman, Philippe Lalliot, “based on an initial analysis, the video seems credible to us and provides new proof of life of the four French hostages kidnaped in Arlit (northern Niger) on September 16, 2010,” adding that the footage was being authenticated.
AQIM is currently believed to be holding eight European hostages, including five French nationals. According to French prosecutors, one of the French hostages, Philippe Verdon, who was kidnapped in Mali in 2011 and found dead earlier this year, was executed with a shot to the head. Officials in France believe that his killing was in retaliation to France’s intervention in Mali. A fifth hostage, Serge Lazarevic, was kidnapped along with Mr. Verdon from their hotel in Hombori on the night of 24 November 2011. Shortly after their kidnapping, the families of the two men insisted that they were not mercenaries or secret service agents. These comments were in response to threats made by AQIM militants stating that the two hostages would be killed as they were French spies.
While the newly released video depicts the pleas of the French hostages for their release, it is highly unlikely that the French government will get involved, and that their plight will be publicly discussed. Although in July of this year French President Francois Hollande announced that France was “doing everything” to bring the hostages back, he indicated that officials would “…not talk so as not to complicate a situation which is bad enough.”
On the ground sources have indicated that gunfire broke out at a paramilitary barracks in Niamey, the capital of Niger, with sporadic shots lasting for about one hour. According to statements from local residents, “the shooting began around 21:30 local time (2030 GMT).” Sporadic gunfire could be heard for an hour and then the sounds of shooting stopped. At the beginning of this year, the camp hosted troops from Chad who were at the time on transit to Mali where they have since fought jihadist militants alongside French and West African forces.
Military and government officials could not be reached in order to provide further details, and it was not immediately possible to indicate whether the gunfire was linked to a number of recent attacks in the country which have been carried by Islamist militants. Since the incident, the area around the gendarmerie camp in the northern regions of the capital has been almost deserted. A jeep carrying paramilitary members was seen travelling in the direction of the city centre. A road block has also been set up at the road which heads to the northern part of the city.
With a number of violent attacks occurring in northern Niger of the past month, citizens of the country have begun to express fears of a “war on terror” in their homeland. Tensions were raised by two suicide bombings on May 23 in the north of Niger. The attacks targeted an army base in Agadez and a uranium mine at Arlit which is run by French nuclear giant Areva. More than twenty people were killed in those attacks. Earlier this month, government officials confirmed that twenty convicts escaped during a jailbreak from a prison in Niamey.
Responsibility for both suicide attacks, the first to have occurred in the west African country, have been claimed by two armed Islamist groups: the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) and Signatories in Blood. Algerian militant Mokhtar Belmokhtar, reported to have organized the two bombings, has threatened to attack Niger again, together with any other country that has troops stationed in Mali, where a French-led military intervention launched in January has seized back control of the northern towns from groups linked to al-Qaeda.
Two simultaneous suicide car bombing attacks have been carried out during the early morning hours in Niger. The attacks, which occurred at around 5:30AM local time and have been claimed by Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), are believed to have been coordinated. Any individuals or companies that are currently in Niger are strongly advised to monitor the local reports and to remain extremely vigilant. Companies stationed in the regions where the attacks occurred are strongly advised to re-evaluate their security procedures, especially in quarters where workers are living, as further suicide attacks and kidnappings are likely to occur.
Niger’s Defence Minister has confirmed that at least nineteen individuals, including eighteen soldiers, have been killed with another sixteen injured after a suicide attack was carried out at a military installation in Agadez, Niger. The attack occurred when a car bomb was detonated outside the military base. Four attackers died and reports have indicated that a fifth attacker is currently holding four army officers hostages. On the ground reports have indicated that the army is patrolling in and around the city.
A second incident targeted a uranium mine, which is operated by French Areva. This attack resulted in fourteen civilians being injured and one killed. In a statement released this afternoon, Areva confirmed that all those injured in the bombing in Arlit were employees of the mine, further stating that operations at the mine had been “temporarily suspended.” The attack in Arlit comes three years after a 2010 incident where five Areva employees were kidnapped by militants linked to al-Qaeda’s Africa branch. In 2010, militants belonging to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) kidnapped seven foreigners, including five French nationals, from a residential compound located near Arlit. At the time of the incident, the victims were either working for Areva or other contracting companies in the region. In February 2011, three of the hostages, including one Frenchwoman, were freed. However AQIM is still holding the other four hostages and has repeatedly threatened to kill them in retaliation for the French-led military intervention in Mali which began in January 2013.
Today’s attacks have been claimed by MUJAO, in which a spokesman for the group, Abu Walid Sahraoui, stated that the operations targeted “the enemies of Islam in Niger.” He added that “we attacked France, and Niger because of its co-operation with France, in the war against Sharia,” indicating that Niger’s participation in the war in Mali was the reason behind the attack. French President Francois Hollande has vowed to protect his nation’s interests and co-operate with Niger in its “fight against terrorism.”