On Monday, South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir confirmed that South Sudanese troops are preparing to enter the rebel-held town of Bor. Earlier, the South Sudanese army confirmed that Bentiu, the capital of oil-rich Unity State, had been taken by fighters supporting former vice-president Riek Machar. Meanwhile in northern Nigeria, a Lebanese businessman has been kidnapped.
President Kiir told Parliament that the army was “ready to move,” adding that the counter-attack had been delayed in order to allow US citizens to be airlifted out. Bor, which lies in the state of Jonglei, was captured by rebels loyal for former vice president Riek Machar last Wednesday. During his address to Parliament, the President repeated his offer to hold talks with Mr. Machar, stating that a delegation of East African foreign minister had offered to mediate the talks. However he did note that Mr. Machar would have “to come to the table without any precondition.”
The mounting ethnic violence over the past week has raised fears that clashes may turn into a civil war. While the president, a member of the majority Dinka ethnic group, has accused Mr. Machar, a member of the Nuer community, of attempting a coup, the former vice president has denied these claims. Mr. Machar has also since indicated that the president has been carrying out a purge of his rivals.
Over the past week, United Nations humanitarian staff in South Sudan have reported numerous blood scenes and summary executions. A spokesman for the UN in the capital, Juba, has also indicated that UN compounds throughout the country were sheltering more than 40,000 civilians. Joseph Contreas further added that the UN was “doing everything possible to remain in touch with key leaders and seek a peaceful way out of this conflict.”
A statement released by UN humanitarian co-ordinator Toby Lanzer has indicated that an estimated 17,000 people had sought protection in the UN peacekeeping base in Bor. Mr. Lanzar further noted that aid workers are under intense pressure, with humanitarian compounds looted in several locations, adding “we are looking at a massive increase in need and I am engaging all parties to ensure that civilians are protected and that aid workers are able to access people who need our help.”
Over the weekend, the US deployed extra troops in order to help evacuate Americans and other foreigners. In Bor, three US military aircraft were fired upon on Saturday, forcing officials to abort the evacuation. On Sunday, the US re-entered using civilian US and UN helicopters. The UK is deploying, what is expected to be a final plane, on Monday to help Britons flee South Sudan.
Meanwhile in Nigeria, gunmen have kidnapped a Lebanese businessman in the northern Nigerian city of Kano after militants stormed his factory.
Police spokesman Magaji Majiya has indicated that police have launched a manhunt to arrest the attackers, adding that a man and woman were wounded when the militants opened fire as they took the man hostage. On the grounds sources have reported that police in Kano have mounted checkpoints throughout the city as they attempt to track down the hostage takers.
Police officials have identified the Lebanese national as Hassan Zein. Zein, the Managing Director of M.C. Plastic Company, was seized in the early hours of Monday from the company’s premises in the Sharada Industrial area of Kano. So far no group has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping. While officials have indicated that there are suspicions that militant Islamists carried out the attack, the possibility that a criminal gang took the man hostage for ransom cannot be ruled out at this time.
This is not the first reported incident of a foreigner being kidnapped in the northern town of Kano. Last year, a German engineer, Edgar Fritz Raupach, was abducted in Kano by militant Islamists. He was later killed during a security force operation to rescue him. While it was not clear which group had abducted Mr. Raupach, a video purported to be from al-Qaeda’s North Africa wing, AQIM, demanded at the time that Germany free a woman jailed on terror charges in return for his release.
Ghana’s President John Mahama has warned that Islamist militants pose a threat that could destabilise the whole of West Africa. This announcement comes just days after Niger’s President indicated that Islamist militants, who attacked two sights in Niger, had come from southern Libya. It also comes at a time when Nigeria’s army announces that armory belonging to the Lebanese group Hezbollah is discovered in northern Nigeria.
Ghana’s President Mahama has indicated that while his country has not directly been affected by the threats, no country in the region was safe if an insurgency were to take place in the region. He further stated that while the French-led military operation had helped secure stability in Mali, the conflict was far from being over, stating that “there is the danger of asymmetric attacks like we saw in Niger the last few days, and so it is a matter that worries all of us in the sub-region.” In turn, the operation to drive out al-Qaeda, and other allied Islamist groups, from northern Mali had showed how the whole Sahel region had “become an attractive foothold for insurgents.”
Meanwhile in Nigeria, an army spokesman, Brigadier Gen. Ilyasu Isa Abba has confirmed that a cache, including 11 anti-tank weapons, four anti-tank mines, a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) and 21 RPG missiles, 17 AK-47’s, two sub-machine guns and 76 grenades, have been found in a warehouse in the northern city of Kano. He further indicated that three Lebanese nationals have been arrested while a fourth is still at large. According to a military statement, one suspect, Mustafa Fawaz, was arrested on May 16 and his “confession unveiled other members of the foreign terrorists network.” A second suspect, Abdullah Tahini, was arrested several day later while attempting to board a flight to Beirut from the airport in Kano. The third detained Lebanese national, Talal Roda, was arrested at the Kano home on May 26 while the fourth suspect, who has been identified as Fauzi Fawad, remains to be at large. Nigeria’s State Security Service has stated that the weapons were intended to be used against “Israeli and Western interests,” with Bassey Ettang, director of the State Security Service in Kano, noting that “this is the handwork of Hezbollah.” He further indicated that “investigations are still ongoing to determine” if the Lebanese nationals “are really connected to Boko Haram.”
This is the first time that Nigerian authorities have alleged that Hezbollah has had an operational interest in the country. Kano, and the north-eastern region of Nigeria, have suffered multiple attacks in the last three years, ever since the home-grown Islamist militant group, Boko Haram, launched an insurgency. According to Mr. Ettang, “you can be sure that if a group like this is existing then it may even lend support to some of the local terrorista we have on the ground.” Hezbollah is a Shiite military and political movement that is based in Lebanon. It is considered to be a terrorist organization by the United States.
Reacting to the latest claims, a security official in Israel has indicated that Nigeria was a “destination state for Shiite terror and global Jihad groups, which are boosting their efforts in Africa as part of international efforts.” The source further indicated that “the cell exposed and arrested is part of a Shiite terror campaign against Western and Israeli targets around the world which has been taking place for a number of years…the possibility that members of the cell acted under Hezbollah’s orders in other African states, such as Benin, the Ivory Coast, Ghana and Sierra Leone, is also being examined.”