Boko Haram militants launched an attack on a key city in northeastern Nigeria on Sunday, just hours ahead of a visit by the United States Secretary of State.
A curfew, which was imposed in the northeastern city of Maiduguri over the weekend “to enable security personnel to carry out their operations,” was lifted Monday as the state governor urged residents to stay and fight. Borno state’s capital was on lock-down since Sunday morning, when Boko Haram militants launched dawn raids on two neighbouring towns that were later repelled by the Nigerian military. Nigerian Army spokesman Colonel Sani Usman confirmed, “the curfew imposed on Maiduguri has been lifted as from 6:00 am (0500 GMT). People can go about their legitimate business.”
On Sunday, Nigeria’s military fought Boko Haram militants near the restive northeastern city of Maiduguri as US Secretary of State John Kerry arrived to discuss fears about election-related violence. Militants launched a raid at dawn, attacking the village of Jintilo, which is located on the outskirts of the Borno State capital. The attack prompted Nigerian soldiers to respond with heavy weaponry and airstrikes as Maiduguri was placed on lock-down. At the same time, militants attacked the town of Monguno, located about 65 kilometres (40 miles) from the fishing town of Baga. Boko Haram overran the town and captured a military barracks; a significant gain for them as according to a source, the fall of Monguno not only removes the last military base to Maiduguri, but “…also gives Boko Haram a free run into the key city.” The attack on Monguno and Jintilo was also likely driven by a need for food, fuel, medicine and other essentials and has allowed the militant group to restock their weaponry ahead of a possible regional counter-insurgency operation. It is believed that the militants may launch a fresh strike on Maiduguri from Monguno, which is located about 125 kilometres (80 miles) north of the state capital. The military high command in Abuja reported Monday that “scores” of Boko Haram fighters had been killed.
While in recent months, fears have been growing about a large-scale attack on Maiduguri, as the militant group has captured swathes of territory in Borno state, the renewed violence has further underscored the extent of the difficulties facing the African nation as it attempts to put a solution in place that will enable hundreds of thousands of people displaced by the on going violence to vote in next month’s presidential elections. The attacks also came a day after President Goodluck Jonathan visited Maiduguri, where he again vowed to end the militant group’s six-year insurgency.
Amnesty International reported late Sunday that civilians in the city and in the surrounding areas are now “at grave risk,” calling for their “immediate protection.” Many civilians caught in Sunday’s violence are people who had previously been displaced to Monguno and Maiduguri after Boko Haram militants stormed Baga on 3 January.
US Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in the Nigerian financial capital Lagos on Sunday, and headed straight to hold separate meetings with President Jonathan and the main opposition’s presidential candidate, former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari. He is expected to address poll-related violence, which has marred past elections in Nigeria, as fears increase that violence could erupt again, given the closely fought race. During Nigeria’s last presidential elections in 2011, some 1,000 people died during protests held in central Nigeria. While both President Jonathan and Buhari recently signed a non-violence agreement, this has not stopped the sporadic outbreaks of violence that have erupted between supporters of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC). Despite the on going insurgency in the northeastern region of the country, the US has pressed for the elections to go ahead, with Washington expecting free, fair and peaceful elections. One US official has stated, “this election in Nigeria is being watched by the entire continent and in fact by the entire world.”
Kerry’s visit to Nigeria, the first by a US secretary of state since Hillary Clinton in 2012, was announced on Friday during a speech in which Kerry warned of the dangers posed by Islamist extremists worldwide. Kerry recently described the attack on Baga as a “crime against humanity” while the US has warned of the threat to Nigeria’s sovereignty posed by the militants. According to a senior official, Kerry will raise the issue of the insurgency with both of the candidates, adding “we have been working very, very closely with the government of Nigeria to address Boko Haram, and I can say very clearly that no country has done as much as we have to support Nigeria’s efforts….And we would hope that both candidates will be able to address the insecurity and address Nigeria’s response to Boko Haram.” US involvement in Nigeria has been filled with criticisms particularly with the Nigerian government’s slow response to the mass abduction of 276 girls from the town of Chibok in April 2014. While US drones were deployed to the area, and the Pentagon dispatching intelligence and surveillance specialist, the whereabouts of 219 teenagers remain unknown. Furthermore, both countries have accused one another of a lack of attempting to end the insurgency. Assistant Secretary of State Linda Thomas-Greenfield has accused Nigeria’s military of being in denial of the threat posed by Boko Haram, which over the past six moths has captured dozens of towns and cities in the northeastern region of Nigeria. Abuja recently ended a US training programme for soldiers fighting the militant group. Meanwhile Nigeria’s ambassador to Washington has accused the US of failing to provide the weaponry necessary to end the rebellion. Furthermore, despite massive defence spending, which accounts for some 20 percent of the federal budget last year, Nigerian troops have on several occasions reported lacking the right weapons and equipment to tackle the militants.
The end of Cuba’s isolation from the global policing fraternity after over a half a decade has opened the doors to a multitude of questions concerning the security of the country, the region, and its relations with the United States. Although not official until codified in legislation and approved by congress, the surprising change of events in December resulted from secret phone calls between U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro. The agreement between the Presidents will, effectively, re-establish relations between the two countries and open the door to an important opportunity for the U.S. to revamp its relationship with the region.
The surprising turn of events contradicts the U.S.’s long-term policy of isolation for Cuba. The instigation of normalization will relax travel, diplomatic, and economic restrictions between the two countries. Further to the agreement between the two leaders, the end of Cuba’s isolation comes with the condition of release of Americans and dissidents from Cuban soil. As a part of the normalization, Cuba will also permit officials from the Red Cross and the United Nations to return to its soil. Not only this, but further to Cuba’s situation, the country’s status as a, “state sponsor of terrorism”, will now come under review from the U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry. The removal of such a status will have an impact on the sanctions that continue to be applied to Cuba.
Cuba’s developments with the U.S. come with potential benefits for both countries, the prospect of improving U.S. security in the region being one of them. In so far as to say, the normalization of relations between Cuba and the U.S. has the potential to arm Cuba with an economic position in the region that will advance the U.S.’s strategic interests and help the U.S. to deal with regional security challenges. Moreover, the policy-shift is likely to expand Cuba’s participation in the regional economy and in doing so, it has the potential to encourage Cuba to collaborate with other countries in the fight against drug trafficking, human trafficking and illegal immigration. However, there is a feasibly volatile side to the situation, as the normalization of relations could see traffickers establish Cuba as a fertile base for transit to Florida and onwards. The potential for such a situation raises some serious questions for the U.S. and the management of such security issues. One must ask if the Cuban law enforcement authorities are prepared a rise in criminal endeavors, resulting from the end of its isolation.
Whilst the ramifications of the official normalization deal between the U.S. and Cuba will follow a congressional approval, all that is certain at this point is that the Obama administration’s policy-shift is one which has not only re-established diplomatic relations between the two countries, it has also fuelled Cuba’s re-integration into the economic, political, and strategic-security realm.
As a team of US experts deploys to Nigeria in a bid to locate more than 200 schoolgirls abducted last month by Boko Haram militants, news has spread that an additional eleven girls have been kidnapped in the northern region of the country. News of these latest kidnappings comes just one day after Boko Haram’s leader confirmed the militant group’s involvement and threatened to sell the girls.
On Monday, the leader of Boko Haram confirmed that the militant group was behind the abduction of over 200 girls who were kidnapped three weeks ago in northeaster Nigeria. In the new 57-minute video released Monday, Boko Haram’s leader Abubakar Shekau added “I will sell them in the market, by Allah….Allah has instructed me to sell them. They are his property and I will carry out his instructions.” In the video, Shekau also notes that the girls should not have been in school in the first place, but rather should get married.
On the night of 14 April, Boko Haram militants stormed an all-girls secondary school in the village of Chibok, in Borno State. The girls, aged 16 to 18, were forced onto trucks and taken into the remote areas along the border with Cameroon. Although fifty-three of the girls managed to escape from the militants, according to police officials 223 are still being held. Unconfirmed sources in Nigeria have indicated that the girls have been taken across the border and into neighbouring countries, including Chad and Cameroon, with some reports indicating that some of the girls had been forced to marry their abductors, who paid a nominal bride price of US $12 (£7).
On Tuesday, residents reported that suspected Boko Haram militants have kidnapped eleven more girls from Nigeria’s embattled north eastern region. According to one eyewitness, the militants arrived in two trucks and “…moved door to door looking for girls,” adding that “they forcefully took away eight girls between the ages of 12 and 15.” Another eyewitness reported that the militants also seized animals and food from the village. According to a local government official, “after leaving Warabe the gunmen stormed the Wala village which is five kilometres away and abducted three more girls.” The latest kidnappings occurred late Sunday in the villages of Warabe and Wala, which are located in the Gwoza area of Borno State. Due to poor communication in the area, details of the latest kidnappings did not emerge until Tuesday. The area around the two villages is known to be a stronghold of the militant group.
While Boko Haram’s five-year insurgency in northern Nigeria has over the past year intensified, the attack and kidnapping of the girls has shocked Nigerians and has resulted in an international outcry for their safe return. Since the launch of military operations in three northern states last May, Boko Haram, which continues to be the main security threat in the country and regionally, has grown bolder in its attacks and has extended its reach. The April 14 kidnapping occurred on the day a bomb blast, also blamed on Boko Haram, killed seventy-five people near Abuja, the first attack to be carried out in the capital city in two years. More than two weeks later, the militants, who say they are fighting to create an Islamic state, carried out a second bomb attack, killing 19 people and wounding 34 in the suburb of Nyanya.
The girl’s abduction has been a huge embarrassment for the government, which has failed to locate them, while Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan has been under increasing pressure to act against the militant group. The latest incidents will likely overshadow the country’s first hosting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) for Africa, which is set to take place on May 7 – 9 in Abuja.
In the wake of increasing frustration over the Nigerian government’s failure to locate the 223 missing schoolgirls, the United States has accepted an offer to aid in the search.
On Tuesday, US President Barack Obama confirmed the deployment of a team of US experts, stating that the group is comprised of personnel from the military, law enforcement and other agencies, adding that he hopes the kidnapping may galvanise the international community to take action against Boko Haram. US Secretary of State John Kerry also indicated Tuesday that Washington will set up a co-ordination cell at its embassy in Abuja which will include US military personnel, law enforcement officials and experts in hostage situations.
While US officials have stated that the first group of abducted girls, who are aged between 16 and 18, may have already been smuggled over Nigeria’s porous borders into countries such as Chad and Cameroon, officials from the two neighbouring states have indicated that at this time they do not believe the girls are in their countries.
The United Kingdom has also offered to help Nigerian authorities in their search. On Tuesday, British Foreign Secretary William Hague announced that the UK would assist the Nigerian government if they received such a request however what form the assistance would take was not specified by Hague.
Libyan Man Accused of Links to al-Qaeda Appears in Public for First Time Since Being Captured Ten Days AgoOctober 18, 2013 in Uncategorized
Ten days after being seized during a US raid in Tripoli, Abu Anas al-Libi, the alleged architect of al-Qaeda’s bombing of two US embassies in 1998, plead not guilty in a New York courtroom. If convicted, he faces a sentence of up to life in prison.
Appearing in public for the first time since being captured by US forces in Libya earlier this month, Abu Anas al-Libi, whose real name is Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai, appeared in a federal court in Manhattan on Tuesday. After spending a week aboard a US Navy ship in the Mediterranean, Mr. Al-Libi, 49, appeared exhausted and frail. Speaking Arabic through a translator, he asked to be addressed by his real name and confirmed that he understood that he had been accused of planning the August 1998 attacks. After denying a series of terrorism charges, that date back twenty years, Mr. Al-Libi entered a not guilty plea through his lawyer. Presiding Judge Lewis Kaplan has adjourned the hearing until 22 October, noting that the suspect must be kept in detention as a flight risk.
In the weeks since the 5 October mission, which simultaneously saw US Commandos attempt to track down a top al-Shabaab commander in Somalia, anger has been rising in Libya over the raid, with many viewing it as a breach of Libyan sovereignty. Although US Secretary of State John Kerry has defended the capture of Mr. Al-Libi, calling him a “legal and appropriate target,” the Libyan government has demanded a full explanation of the raid from the officials in the US. This resulted in Libya’s justice minister summoning the US ambassador to the country for questioning last week. In turn, Libya’s Prime Minister Ali Zeidan has also voiced his concerns, noting that his country was “keen on prosecuting any Libyan citizen inside Libya.” Shortly after being captured, Mr. Al-Libi was taken to a US navy vessel in the Mediterranean. According to reports, Mr. Al-Libi was interrogated by intelligence officials on board the USS San Antonio for a period of a week after his capture. Court details have also indicated that Mr. Al-Libi was not formally arrested until a week after being seized. This has prompted critics in the US to accuse President Barack Obama of continuing controversial detention policies that had been introduced by former President George W. Bush.
Mr. Al-Libi was wanted in connection to the 7 August 1998 bombing of a US embassy in Nairobi and of America’s diplomatic mission in Dar es Salaam. The attacks were carried out when trucks laden with explosives detonated almost simultaneously. More than 200 people died in the Kenyan capital, with at least 11 dead in Dar es Salaam. Thousands others were injured in the bombings. The majority of the victims were civilians.
For the past decade, Mr. al-Libi has been on the FBI’s most wanted list, with a US $5 million (£3.1 million) bounty on his head. He was formally charged with conspiracy to murder, kidnap and maim Americans, to damage and destroy US buildings and property, and to attack US national defence facilities. The charges against him also include discussing a possible al-Qaeda attack against the US embassy in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, in retaliation for the American military intervention in Somalia. In a 157-page indictment, prosecutors allege that from 1993, he carried out surveillance on the US embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, where he took photographs that were later inspected by Osama bin Laden. The former computer programmer is also alleged to have “reviewed files” concerning possible attacks on Western interests in East Africa.
The second US command raid on 5 October was carried out in southern Somalia however that mission failed to capture its target – Abdukadir Mohamed Abudkadir, a Kenyan al-Shabaab commander who is also known as Ikrima. That raid came in the wake of the attack on the Westgate shopping centre in Nairobi, which left at least 67 people dead, and which was claimed by al-Shabaab militants.
Officials in France, the United States and the United Kingdom, along with the United Nations Secretary-General, have condemned the abduction of Libya’s Prime Minister. Shortly after his release, Prime Minister Ali Zeidan accused a “political party” of organizing his brief abduction, which was carried out by armed gunmen during the early morning hours on Thursday. The latest incident to stun Libya has further reflected the weakness of the country’s government.
During the early morning hours on Thursday, Libya’s Prime Minister Ali Zeidan was abducted from a luxury hotel, the Corinthia, in downtown Tripoli and held for several hours by armed militiamen. Photographs depicted Mr. Zeidan being surrounded by more than 100 armed men and being led away. There were no reports of violence during his capture. Sources have indicated that the Prime Minister was abducted with two of his guards, who were beaten and later released. Shortly after his abduction, an employee of the hotel where Mr. Zeidan was living in indicated that a “large number of armed men” had entered the building. Although a statement later released by the Libyan government indicated that Mr. Zeidan had been taken “to an unknown destination for unknown reasons by a group” of men believed to be former rebels, eye witness accounts reported that the Prime Minister was held at a police station south of the capital and that his captors had decided to release him after armed residents surrounded the building and demanded that he be released.
Shortly after his release later on Thursday, Mr. Zeidan met with his minister and members of the General National Congress (GNC), which is Libya’s highest political authority. The Prime Minister appeared to be in good health as he arrived at government headquarters later on Thursday. He was seen waving to waiting well-wishers as he climbed out of an armored car. Reports have indicated that the Prime Minister has accused a “political party” of organizing his brief abduction. In comments that were later broadcast by state television as he left a cabinet meeting, the Prime Minister indicated that “it’s a political party which wants to overthrow the government by any means,” adding that “in the coming days, I will give more information on who this political party is that organized by kidnapping.” While the Prime Minister has praised the armed groups that came to rescue him, he has called for calm, stating that “…this problem will be resolved with reason and wisdom” and without any “escalation.” His comments reflect a need for ease as tensions have been rising in Libya ever since US commandos carried out a secretive military operation over the past weekend.
While the motive of the abduction remains unclear, some officials have indicated that it appeared to be in retaliation for the US special forces raid that seized a Libyan al-Qaeda suspect off the streets of Tripoli. Some militias throughout the country have been angered by last Saturday’s US commando raid to capture Anas al-Libi, a senior al-Qaeda suspect, who has since been taken away to a warship in the mediterranean where US officials are questioning him about his supposed links to al-Qaeda. In turn, the abduction of Mr. Zeidan has aptly demonstrated the weakness of Libya’s government, which has had difficulties inserting its control amongst a number of powerful militias. Militants were angered by the US capture of the suspected militant and have accused the government of either colluding in, or allowing the raid to occur. Furthermore, confusion pertaining to the Prime Minister’s kidnapping was increased after varying reports indicated that he had been arrested. In the absence of an affective police force or military in Libya, many of the militias in the country are under the pay of either the defence or interior ministries however their allegiance and who really controls them is in doubt.
Meanwhile international officials have condemned the kidnapping of Libya’s Prime Minster. The United States has denounced the kidnapping, with US Secretary of State John Kerry calling the act “thuggery.” The Secretary of State also noted that “today’s events only underscore the need to work with Prime Minister Zeidan and with all of Libya’s friends and allies to help bolster its capacity with greater speed and greater success,” adding that there could be “no place for this kind of violence in the new Libya.” A statement released by the UN on behalf of Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged all Libyans to respect the rule of law, noting that “the secretary-general calls on all Libyan parties and the Libyan people to form consensus around national priorities and work towards building a strong, stable country, respectful of the rule of law and the protection of human rights.” officials in France and the UK also pledged swift support for Mr. Zeidan. French President Francois Hollande stated that he stood ready to strengthen ties with Libya in order to tackle the militants. Meanwhile a spokesman for David Cameron indicated that the UK’s prime Minister had spoken to a “calm and measured” Ali Zeidan after his release and had promised to help build a “stable, free, peaceful and prosperous” Libya.