The French government confirmed this week that authorities in France are investigating claims that French peacekeepers operating in Central African Republic (CAR) sexually abused children. French President Francois Hollande has vowed to “show no mercy” if French peacekeepers in the CAR are found guilty of raping children in exchange for food and money.
On Wednesday, a statement released by the French defense ministry disclosed that the French government “was made aware at the end of July 2014 by the UN’s high commission for human rights of accusations by children that they had been sexually abused by French soldiers.” The statement further disclosed that Paris prosecutors opened an investigation shortly afterwards, adding, “the defense ministry has taken and will take the necessary measures to allow the truth to be found… If the facts are proven, the strongest penalties will be imposed on those responsible for what would be an intolerable attack on soldiers’ values.”
Officials at the ministry have disclosed that the abuse was alleged by around ten children and reportedly occurred at a centre for internally displaced people near the airport of the capital Bangui between December 2013 and June 2014. Sources have reported that children as young as nine were involved and that some were abused in exchange for food and money. An internal UN report has suggested that troops from France, Chad and Equatorial Guinea are implicated. The UN report suggests that at least 13 French soldiers, two soldiers from Equatorial Guinea and three Chadian troops were involved in the alleged abuse. According to a French judicial source, some of the French soldiers have been identified however none have been questioned on the matter. Officials from Chad and Equatorial Guinea have not yet commented on the allegations.
UN spokesman Farhan Haq has confirmed that its rights investigators conducted a probe last year after “serious allegations” of child abuse and sexual exploitation by French troops had emerged, adding that it has suspended a staff member for leaking the report in July.
If these allegations are confirmed, this will likely have severe implications on the French mission deployed in the CAR, as well as on the Central African country, which continues to struggle to maintain security.
Witnesses reported Friday that Nigeria’s Boko Haram militant group has attacked a town in neighbouring Niger for the first time.
The attack targeted the Nigerien border town of Bosso, which is located just across the border from Nigeria. Fighting broke out around 9:00 AM (0800 GMT). According to one resident, locals “…can hear the sound of weapons all around the town…” adding “there is the noise of heavy weapons and of light arms, making our houses shake.” Yacouba Soumana Gaoh, governor of the regional capital of Diffa confirmed the attack, stating that troops pushed back the attack by the end of the morning, adding that by noon, order was restored. On the ground sources have reported that Niger’s army, alongside troops from Chad who have been stationed in Bosso since Monday, took on the Nigerian armed militants, adding that Boko Haram “took the municipality” for a time before being “driven back to Nigeria.” The attack comes as Niger’s parliament in the capital city Niamey is due to vote on 9 February on a proposal to send troops to Nigeria to fight Boko Haram.
Friday’s incident is the militant group’s second attack on a neighbouring country in the past two days. On Thursday, Boko Haram militants reportedly killed at least seventy people in an attack on the town of Fotokol in Cameroon. According to local officials, the militants attacked civilians in their homes and in the town’s mosque, setting many buildings on fire, including the mosque. Residents of Fotokol have reported that the militants had killed many people by slitting their throats. The militants were eventually driven back by Cameroonian troops, backed by Chadian forces, who had been deployed to the nearby Nigerian town of Gamboru as part of a regional force. The attack came a day after a regional force indicated that it had driven the militants from a Nigerian town located near Fotokol.
On Tuesday, Chadian army disclosed that its troops had killed more than 200 militants in a battle to recapture Gamboru. Officials did note that some of the militants had escaped the offensive. Chadian troops have entered Nigeria and Cameroon to join the fight against Boko Haram.
The latest attacks come as Nigeria’s influential council of state announced Thursday that it has decided to go ahead with the presidential elections on 14 February, rejecting calls for a postponement.
Last month, Nigeria’s national security adviser had called for a delay to allow more time for voter card distribution. Officials have also raised their concerns over the on-going insurgency in northeastern Nigeria, which in recent months has seen Boko Haram mount its attacks both in Nigeria and in neighbouring Cameroon. However Imo state governor Rochas Okorocha indicated Thursday that election officials have insisted that they are “very ready.” Reports also emerged Thursday that a Nigerian government spokesperson disclosed that intelligence reports have indicated that the militant group is planning steal voter cards from women in a bid to use them to get suicide bombers into polling stations. In recent months, Boko Haram has increasingly been using female suicide bombers to carry out deadly attacks across northeastern Nigeria.
Nigeria on Monday claimed to have retaken the town of Gamboru, along with four other towns held by Boko Haram, following a joint weekend offensive carried out by it’s military, civilian vigilantes and forces from neighbouring Chad and Cameroon. Tensions however remain high as the country braces for more attacks ahead of the 14 February presidential elections.
On Monday, national security spokesman Mike Omeri announced “our troops are in control after operations which had the active support of volunteers and our friendly neighbours.” In a separate statement, he indicated that the towns that have been retaken are: Mafa, Mallam Fatori, Abadam, Marte and Gamboru, where Chad has carried out three days of airstrikes. All of the towns are located in the northeastern state of Borno. The statement also indicated that eleven towns in Adamawa state to the south of Borno had been liberated, with the militants still occupying six areas. Boko Haram has also been chased out of Guba and Gulani, located in neighbouring Yobe state. On the ground sources in Fotokol, a town in Cameroon located less than one kilometre from Gamboru, confirmed that aerial bombings in the area were on-going early Monday but that the situation appeared quiet by the evening.
Omeri’s statement came hours after a suspected suicide bomber targeted a presidential campaign rally in northeastern Nigeria. President Goodluck Jonathan, who had been addressing supporters of his ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Gombe city, had just left the venue when the blast happened in a car park outside. Rescue workers and health officials indicated that two women were killed and eighteen people were wounded. According to a source, the two women are believed to be the suicide bombers behind the attack. The latest attack came a day after two explosions occurred in Gombe city, both of which have been blamed on Boko Haram militants. Sunday’s attacks left at least five people dead in a weekend of deadly violence that also saw the militant group attacking the strategic city of Maiduguri for the second time in a week. While Nigerian troops, aided by civilian vigilantes, repelled the attack, it is believed that Maiduguri will likely be targeted again before the presidential elections. This is due to its symbolism for the group and because control of the city would undermine the 14 February polls. Boko Haram has effectively surrounded Maiduguri, which is seen as one of the last few places in the state where voting could feasibly still take place. If Boko Haram succeeds in gaining control, voter turnout will likely be affected if large numbers of people, many of whom have been displaced by the six-year insurgency, desert the city, which, along with several other areas in the northeast, is a main opposition stronghold.
The last two strikes on Maiduguri may have been preliminary tests carried out by the militant group in a bid to check the city’s defences. In turn, these two strikes have resulted in additional troops being deployed to Maiduguri, a move that may have been designed by Boko Haram to move troops out of other regions in the northeast where the militant group may now strike. While Boko Haram is strategically in an excellent place to launch a successful strike on Maiduguri, analysts question whether the group will be able to hold on to the key city.
For several months, Boko Haram has been in control of a series of towns along Nigeria’s northeastern border. The militant group has also been responsible for a string of cross-border attacks, particularly inside neighbouring Cameroon. The upsurge in violence coupled with fears that the Nigerian government may soon loose complete control over Borno state prompted calls for the affected countries to mount a joint offensive amidst evidence that Boko Haram was rapidly growing in strength.
While the new multi-lateral offensive may succeed in weakening Boko Haram, there could be severe political consequences for Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, who is seeking to be re-elected in the upcoming presidential elections, due to take place in less than two weeks. The president has already been severely criticized over his government’s failed response to the on-going insurgency. Furthermore, Nigeria’s willingness to allow foreign militants to carry out operations on its own territory, and possibly occupy areas with ground forces, will likely be seen as an embarrassment by some in Africa’s most populous country.
Boko Haram, which has proclaimed a “caliphate” in the areas under its control in northeastern Nigeria, is now threatening neighbouring Cameroon, Chad and Niger. Since April 2014, Boko Haram violence has been on the rise, and has continued to increase in the weeks leading up to the presidential elections:
- April 14: 276 girls are seized from their school in Chibok, in the remote region of Borno state capital. Fifty-seven of the girls later managed to flee however 219 are still missing.
- April 14: At least 75 people are killed in a bomb blast that goes off in a packed bus station on the outskirts of Nigeria’s capital city Abuja. Boko Haram later claims responsibility for the bombing. Further attacks, which occur in May and June, kill another 40 people.
- May 5: Boko Haram gunmen raze the town of Gamboru Ngala in Borno state. Local sources reported that at least 300 people were killed
- May 20: Twin car bombings in the central Nigerian city of Jos, which are blamed on Boko Haram, kill at least 118 people.
- June 3: Heavily armed gunmen raid four northeastern villages in Borno state. Local leaders put the death toll between 400 – 500.
- November 28: Two suicide bombers blew themselves up and gunmen opened fire during weekly prayers at the mosque of the Emir of Kano, which is one of Nigeria’s top Islamic leaders. At least 120 people are killed and 270 are left injured.
- December 1: More than 150 people are killed after Boko Haram militants raid the northeastern city of Damaturu in Yobe state.
- December 14: Boko Haram kills 32 people and kidnaps at least 185 in an attack on the northeastern village of Gumsuri, which is located south of Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state.
- January 3: Boko Haram attacks the town of Baga, which is located on the banks of Lake Chad. According to Amnesty International, “hundreds” were killed.
- January 25: Boko Haram captures the strategic northeastern town of Monguno and a military base. The town is located about 125 kilometres (80 miles) north of Maiduguri. US Secretary of State John Kerry pledges further US support for the counter-insurgency
- January 30 – 31: During a summit at the Ethiopian capital, the African Union proposes to set up a regional five-nation force of 7,500 troops tasked to fight Boko Haram.
- January 31 – February 1: Chadian aircraft bomb the Nigerian town of Gamboru at the border with Cameroon. A 500-metre bridge from the Cameroonian town of Fotokol, where Cameroonian and Chadian soldiers have gathered over the past several days, separates Gamboru.
- February 1: Boko Haram fighters storm Maiduguri. The Nigerian army indicated that it has repelled the assault with the help of local vigilante groups.
Attacks carried out in northeastern Nigeria over the past week are the latest in an upsurge of violence that has hit the region as elections for a new president and parliament approach next month. Amnesty International has indicated that one of Boko Haram’s attacks is the “deadliest massacre” in the history of the militant group’s insurgency while the United Nations reported on Tuesday that the latest wave of attacks have sent nearly 12,000 people fleeing into Chad in a matter of days. This increase in tempo of attacks is likely linked with the upcoming presidential elections, which are due to be held on 14 February.
New Wave of Violence
The week of violence began on 3 January, when Boko Haram militants attacked the town of Baga, in northern Borno state, in what is now believed to be the worst atrocity carried out in the militant group’s six-year campaign.
On the ground sources have reported that Nigerian soldiers stationed in Baga fled over the weekend as the militant group overran the town and the nearby Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) army base. The violence in the town continued during the week, with militants killing dozens of people and burning down homes. Local officials reported that Boko Haram insurgents began shooting indiscriminately and burning buildings in Baga late on Tuesday in raids that targeted the civilian population and continued into Wednesday. TV footage depicted scores of civilians on the outskirts of Baga as they waited to catch buses out of the town. Many were seen carrying the few possessions they were able to salvage, including bags of clothing and rolled up mattresses. On Friday, Nigerian forces, backed by air strikes, began fighting for control of the town. A statement released by Mike Omeri, the government spokesman on the insurgency, disclosed “security forces have responded rapidly, and have deployed significant military assets and conducted airstrikes against militant targets.”
The town of Baga is of strategic importance to Boko Haram, as it is believed to be the last town in northern Borno still under the federal government’s control. The militant group, which has seized more than two-dozen towns in northeastern Nigeria in the past six months, now control all three of Borno’s borders with Cameroon, Chad and Niger. As a result, Boko Haram is now in a better position to launch attacks both in Nigeria, including targeting the key city of Maiduguri where thousands of civilians have fled to in recent months in a bid to escape the on going violence, as well as across the borders. Into Cameroon and Niger. It also means that the group has likely secured important supply routes for weapons and will now be able to enlarge its recruitment base in order to replenish its ranks. The capture of Baga also proves that the Nigerian government is far from being on top of the situation, and is a further defeat for the country’s military.
With Baga now under Boko Haram’s control, the militant group has effectively encircled Borno state capital Maiduguri, where Boko Haram was founded and which has been repeatedly attacks. It is highly likely that the militant group’s fighters will now begin to move inwards, targeting the remaining towns and villages in this encircled area before they attack Maiduguri, and southwards, in a bid to capture any remaining towns. According to Nigerian lawmaker Maina Maaji Lawan, Boko Haram now controls 70% of Borno state.
Worst Violence in Six-Year Insurgency
As news emerged that Nigerian forces were attempting to regain control of Baga, on Friday, Amnesty International suggested that last week’s attack on the northeastern town was the “deadliest massacre” in the Islamist militant group’s history.
On the grounds sources have reported that hundreds of bodies remain strewn in the bush in the area surrounding the town. District head Baba Abba Hassan has disclosed that most of the victims are children, women and elderly people who were not able to run fast enough when the militants drove into Baga, firing rocket-propelled grenades and assault rifles on the town’s residents.
A statement released by Amnesty International has indicated that there are reports that the town was razed and that as many as 2,000 people were killed. Daniel Eyre, Nigeria research for Amnesty International, stated that if these reports are true, “this marks a disturbing and bloody escalation of Boko Haram’s on going onslaught.” Nigerian officials however have released contradicting numbers. On Monday, the defence ministry disclosed that the number of people who lost their lives in an assault by Boko Haram militants on the town of Baga last week was no more than 150, adding that this figure included “many of the terrorists” who had attacked the town in Borno state and who had faced resistance by troops. The ministry has dismissed estimates that as many as 2,000 people may have been killed, stating that they were “exaggerated.” Reports by local civilians however have indicated that thousands were killed in this week’s bloodshed, with one local stating that the number may be as high as 3,000. Nigerian officials have in the past been accused of underestimating casualty figures in a bid to downplay the growing threat from Boko haram.
The previous bloodiest day in the uprising involved soldiers gunning down unarmed detainees who were freed in a 14 March 2014 attack on the Giwa military barracks in Maiduguri city. At the time, officials at Amnesty International disclosed that satellite imagery indicated that more than 600 people were killed that day. According to the Washington-based Council on Foreign Relations, in the last year alone, more than 10,000 people have been killed with more than a million people displaced inside Nigeria and hundreds of thousands fleeing across the country’s borders into Chad, Cameroon in Nigeria.
The number and scale of attacks has sharply risen over the past year, ever since the Nigerian government imposed emergency rule on the three worst hit states. Despite being heavily criticized for his failure to stem the on going fighting, President Goodluck Jonathan, who is seeing re-election, has blamed opposition candidate Muhammadu Buhari for Nigeria’s ill-equipped army and their inability to tackle the growing threat. President Goodluck Jonathan, who condemned the attack on a French satirical magazine in Paris, has yet to comment on the latest violence at home.
Increase Use of Female Suicide Bombers
This past week’s attacks in northeastern Nigeria also included several attacks that involved suicide bombers.
At least four people were killed and twenty-one injured in the city of Potiskum on Sunday when two female suicide bombers, one of them aged about fifteen, blew themselves up in a crowded market. According to a security source involved in the investigation, “one of the bombers looked 23 and the other 15,” adding “the first bomber – the 23 year old – detonated her explosives just outside the entrance of the market, where volunteers were sweeping people going inside the market with metal detectors…the second bomber was terrified by the explosion and she tried to dash across the road but she also exploded.” Witnesses have reported that the second blast went off as people were fleeing the first blast. The market was filled with traders and shoppers from all over Yobe state and beyond at the time of the attack. The blasts, which took place at the Kasuwar Jagwal mobile phone market in the commercial capital of Yobe State, come just a day after a young girl, thought to be aged 10, killed nineteen people in Maiduguri in neighbouring Borno State. In a separate attack on Saturday, two people were killed when a car exploded outside a police station in Potiskum.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for these latest attacks however suspicion is likely to fall on Boko Haram, which has increasingly been using female suicide bombers to carry out deadly attacks.
Since June 2014, Boko Haram has increasingly been using young girls and women to carry out deadly suicide attacks across the northeastern region of Nigeria. In July, there were four suicide bombings carried out by females in one week in Kano. During the same month, a 10-year-old girl was found in Katsina state wearing a suicide vest. In December 2014, Zahra’u Babangida, 13, was arrested with explosives strapped to her body. She later told journalists that her parents had volunteered her to take part in a suicide attack in the city of Kano.
While older women may willingly become human bombs, as they either share the Islamists’ radical ideology or are out to avenge the death of loved ones who were killed by the Nigerian military, the young ages of some of the bombers, such as the girl in Maiduguri, suggests that coercion is likely being used by the militant group. A civilian vigilante who witnessed the Maiduguri bombing has stated that he doubts if the young bomber “…actually knew what was strapped to her body.” Meanwhile another eyewitness has disclosed that it appeared that the bomb was remote-controlled, which is inline with other testimony from other attacks across the wider north region of Nigeria.
Officials confirmed Sunday that the militant group Boko Haram has seized control of a town and key multinational military base in northeastern Nigeria, in what appears to be the latest advance by the group to create an Islamic State.
A senator in Borno state confirmed Sunday that troops had abandoned the base, which is located in the town of Baga, after militants attacked the town on Saturday. Residents of Baga, who fled by boat to neighbouring Chad, have disclosed that many people were killed in the attack, adding that the town was later set ablaze. Several residents reported that they had woken to heavy gunfire as militants stormed Baga early on Saturday, attacking from all directions. Some eyewitnesses disclosed that they had decided to flee after seeing the multi-national troops deserting their posts. Communications with the town remain cut off and exact information about casualty numbers have not been confirmed.
Boko Haram’s takeover of Baga is significant as the town, which was the scene of a Nigerian army massacre in 2013, was the last in the Borno North area still under the government’s control. The town also hosted the base of the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF), which is composed of troops from Nigeria and neighbouring Chad and Niger. Sources have confirmed that the base is now under Boko Haram’s control. The MNJTF was set up in 1998 and tasked to fight trans-border crime in the Lake Chad region. Most recently, the task force was charged with combatting Boko Haram.
Over the past month, Boko Haram has intensified its attacks on towns and villages, carrying out almost daily attacks. The militant group has also launched several mass kidnappings, taking captive hundreds, including young boys and girls. Many believe that the militant group is attempting to replenish its ranks as its aims to solidify its grip on the areas of northeastern Nigerian already under its control. The Nigerian military, which includes Western advisers and surveillance, has been incapable of dealing with the growing problem, which is now rapidly transforming into a region-wide threat. Nigeria’s home-grown Boko Haram group has begun regionalizing the conflict, launching a several attacks across the border into Cameroon in recent weeks.