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.”
Two Spanish aid workers, who were kidnapped in Kenya nearly two years ago and held in neighbouring Somalia, have been freed according to their employer.
In a statement that was released by Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), the organization confirmed that the two women are both “safe and healthy and keen to join their loved ones as soon as possible….Once again, MSF strongly condemns this attack on humanitarian workers who were in Dadaab offering life saving medical assistance to thousands of refugees.” MSF indicated that it would give any further details before a press conference which has been scheduled in Madrid on Friday.
Montserrat Serra (40) and Blanca Thiebaut (30) were kidnapped on 13 October 2011 by gunmen who opened fire on their vehicle inside the Dadaab refugee camp complex. Their Kenyan driver was shot and wounded. At the time of the kidnapping, Kenyan police had stated that they had been seized by members of Somalia’s Islamist al-Shabaab group, however no group has actually claimed responsibility for the kidnapping. Just days later, Kenya deployed its troops into neighbouring Somalia in order to fight al-Shabaab militants.
Dadaab, said to be the world’s largest refugee camp, houses some 500,000 people who have fled years of conflict and drought across the border in Somalia. MSF, which at the time of the kidnapping had 49 foreign and 343 local staff in Dadaab, has since reduced its activity there to a minimum. Both women were working as logisticians for MSF in Dadaab. Ms. Serra, a qualified teacher from Girona, Spain, had been working in Kenya for two months before she was kidnapped. She had previously worked on aid projects in Latin America and Yemen. Ms. Thiebaut, from Madrid, had recently completed a degree at the London School of Economics and is an agricultural engineer by training.
The abduction of the Spaniards followed the kidnapping of a French woman and a British woman from the Kenyan coast near the Somali border. Briton Judith Tebbut, in her late fifties, was seized from a remote Kenyan resort on 11 September 2011, by armed men who killed her husband David. She was released in March 2012 after being held for more than six months. A ransom was reportedly paid by her son. Marie Dedieu, 66 and partially paralyzed, was seized from her beachfront home in the Lamu archipelago on 1 October 2011. She was reported dead later that month, with French officials stating that the death was probably due to her having been deprived of essential medication by her kidnappers. On 25 October 2011, two aid workers with the Danish Refugee Council were seized by armed men in Galkayo in north-central Somalia. They were freed during a raid that was launched by US Commandos in January 2012. Meanwhile in January of this year, al-Shabaab fighters killed a French hostage, an intelligence agent known under the pseudonym Denis Allex who was held since 2009, during a botched rescue attempt by French forces. A colleague of Mr. Allex, who was kidnapped at the same time, managed to escape in August 2009. A Briton and Kenyan, who were employed by an Indian subcontractor of a UN agency and who were kidnapped in southern Somalia in 2008, are feared dead. While an American national kidnapped in January 2012 is still being held.
Meanwhile thirty-nine seamen of various nationalities from the Naham 3, a fishing vessel that was captured in March 2012, along with crew members from two other boats, are still being held in Somalia. The fate of a further fifteen crew members, whose vessel, the MV Albedo, sunk early last week, remains unknown.
Over the weekend, officials confirmed that two Malian soldiers were killed and several others were wounded in a suicide attack near Gao, demonstrating that rebel groups in desert hideouts continue to launch isolated attacks against the French and Malian forces.
The latest suicide attack took place in the village of Hamakouladji, located 40 km (25 miles) north of Gao. The attack occurred when several militants managed to detonate their explosives as a patrol passed through the village.
Two Malian soldiers and at least two Islamist militants were killed in the attack which occurred on Saturday. According to Colonel Kassim Goita, a senior commander of Malian troops in the northern town of Gao, the attack took place when soldiers followed a suspect on a motorcycle, which parked next to a vehicle which blew up as they approached. Colonel Goita further indicated that eight soldiers had been wounded and that clashes were ongoing in the area.
Gao was the first major town to be freed from Islamist control. It is also the hub for both the French and Malian military operations. However the town has continued to bear a major brunt of the guerrilla-war fought by militants since they scattered into Mali’s desert and mountains.
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.
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.
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
adequately 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.