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FreeRad!cals Newsblog March 12-19

20/03/2013

NIGERIA

Radical Islamists in the north of the country have taken to kidnapping and murder, marking an escalation of the violence within Nigeria. Ansaru, an obscure Boko Haram splinter group, announced the murders of seven European construction workers who were taken on February 16.

These recent events have signaled a change in tactics by Nigerian Islamists. For the most part, Boko Haram has focused attacks on local and feral authorities, though this is not to say that civilians have not been harmed. The explicit targeting of civilians led to Boko Haram’s rejection of Ansaru, who have adopted al Qaeda style tactics: targeting, kidnapping, and murder of Westerners. The birth of Ansaru predates the incursion in Mali, which has added to anti-Western sentiment. It should be expected that kidnappings will continue and that the group will continue its attempts to forge ties with other radical groups within Mali and throughout the region. The group is especially threatening because while Boko Haram wants an Islamic state, while Ansaru wants to use Nigeria as a base for revenge against the West.

A video was released on Monday of one of the French hostages taken in Cameroon a month ago. In the video, a man says that Boko Haram is holding him and his family until its members in Nigeria and Cameroon are set free. The video follows the French Foreign Minister’s trip to Nigeria and Cameroon as part of a hostage campaign for both the family and the construction worker who was killed.

The Ansaru murders come right before Monday’s bus station bombing in the northern city of Kano. Though no group has stepped forward, the bombing resembles Boko Haram attacks of the past. At least 20 were confirmed dead in the explosions, provoking President Goodluck Jonathan into statements that the government will not stop its fight against terrorism, and that the Nigerian government will continue to work with local and international actors to defeat terrorism.

MALI

Islamic extremists continue to cross between Nigeria and Mali in spite of the current missions against them. Reports have existed for years about Boko Haram traveling across the border into Mali in order to train, but recently many Nigerians sense that there is a link between this cross-border training and their own internal strife.

Despite French efforts, extremism continues to destabilise Mali and across poorly controlled borders. Additionally, with the French planning to withdraw troops as early as next month, many officials are concerned about the capacity of African soldiers to combat the militants. Most fighting thus far has been by French and Chadian soldiers, who are now switching to patrol duties while Nigerian and Senegalese troops have been slow to arrive and have tended to focus on peacekeeping.

The US is becoming increasingly nervous, and has begun flying drone patrols throughout the Sahel. They have also invested over $550 million in the past 4 years to train West African forces, though many argue this has not seen particularly great results. Forces are poorly prepared and because of intense fighting along the Algerian border, France has delayed its withdrawal. Though France is expected to maintain a presence post-withdrawal, it will be under the new UN mandate, for which Ban Ki-moon is expected to have submitted his recommendations by the end of the month.

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO (DRC)

The DRC offered rebels amnesty and army positions if they would agree to stop fighting, but militant leaders rejected the offer claiming that more talks were necessary. According to the governmental peace plan, M23 militants could hand over weapons to UN peacekeepers on the DRC-Rwandan border and those not facing criminal chargers would be reintegrated into the army. Fighting among the rebels threatens the signing of peace accords between M23 and the government, which were set to be signed on Friday after four months of negotiation.

M23 rebels under Sultani Makenga have sidelined followers of Bosco Ntaganda, who surrendered Monday to the ICC on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. The US Embassy, where Ntaganda surrendered, has been in contact with the ICC to coordinate the alleged war criminal’s transfer to The Hague. An arrest warrant has been in place for Ntaganda since 2006 and he faces ten counts on child soldiering, murder, terrorism, and using rape as a weapon of war. Why Ntaganda surrendered is still a matter of speculation, though it seems likely that Ntaganda may have lost Rwandan support at the same time he fell out of favor with M23, which forced him to either turn himself in or be killed.

SOMALIA

On Monday, an explosive-filled car targeting government officials hit a civilian vehicle and exploded, before setting a bus on fire and killing at least ten people and wounding twenty. The targets appear to have been Somali intelligence officials. Al-Shabab came forward confirming the head of Somali intelligence was the intended target due to his involvement with Western governments. The group controlled Mogadishu between 2006 and 2011 before being pushed out by the African Union, and has been on the run since then.

Sheik Ali Mohamed Rage, an al-Shabab spokesperson, told Reuters that the attack was revenge for the deaths of group members at the hands of the Somali national security forces. The group still controls a large percentage of the southern part of the country, and Monday’s attack serves as a reminder of al-Shabab’s ability to wreak havoc. The attack, and the group’s earlier seizing of Hudur mark a victory for al-Shabab.

IRAQ

A series of car bombs and roadside blasts have killed 56 and injured 200 in Shia districts on Tuesday. Security forces have increased searches at checkpoints, effectively closing off key roads and worsening rush-hour traffic. The attacks included at least ten car bombs, one IED, and two gun attacks in and around Baghdad marking the anniversary of US entry into the country. The deadliest of the attacks happened near the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, where seven were killed and 21 wounded.

Sunni fighters are increasing attacks in an attempt to trigger sectarianism and undermine the Shia-led government. Though no one has claimed responsibility, Sunni militants have been linked to al Qaeda and are trying to regain ground in the country. The attacks came as the government was announcing a postponement of provincial elections in which candidates are being threatened and killed. Though violence has declined since 2006, attacks are still common, with 220 people being killed last month.

PAKISTAN

Starting Monday, Christian protesters in Pakistan have clashed with police in two cities over alleged blasphemous remarks made against the Prophet Muhammad. Police fired tear gas into the crowd of almost a thousand protesters and took a total of six protesters into custody. In Lahore, demonstrators held up large crucifixes and blocked main highway entrances, demanding better compensation from the government after 170 Christian homes were burned to the ground on Saturday by anti-Christian mobs. Police in Lahore arrested close to 150 people accused of setting Christian homes on fire after a non-Muslim was accused on Friday of making offensive comments about the Prophet Muhammad. In Pakistan, accusations of blasphemy are frequently used to persecute religious minorities. According to the Human Rights Watch, there are 16 people on death row in Pakistan on charges of blasphemy.

On Monday, the Pakistani Taliban halted all peace negotiations with the government of Pakistan, claiming that they were, “not serious.” In a short video, a spokesperson for the group, Ehsanullah Ehsan proclaimed that, “ This non-serious response to our offer of peace talks has proved who is pushing the country into an inferno of bloodshed.” This statement comes after the Pakistani Taliban announced earlier last month that they would be open to peace talks with the country’s top politicians. In response to the video, Khyber Pakhtunkhawa the Pakistani information minister commented that, “ The peace process has not even started so what to say about suspending it. It doesn’t make sense.”

AFGHANISTAN

Taliban and opposition leaders confirmed for the first time to the Associated Press that the parties opposed to Afghan President Hamid Karzai have been talking to the Taliban since the beginning of this year.  The opposition has opened their own communications with the Taliban in response to the current government’s lack of progress. By doing so, the opposition hopes to both strike a deal to put an end to the 11 year war and position themselves favourably for next year’s election. The Taliban has rejected negotiations with the Karzai government, deeming the administration a puppet regime. As the opposition makes way for negotiations with the Taliban, Karzai has openly accused the West of brokering deals between the Taliban and his political enemies. The opposition hopes to find a consensus in choosing the next Presidential candidate by reaching an understanding with the Taliban and other opposing groups. This would give them a greater chance to succeed in the 2014 election and form a multi-party government that could bring stability to Afghanistan.

BANGLADESH

Police in Dhaka fired rubber bullets into crowds of opposition demonstrators on Monday in hopes to break up the riots. Opposition leader and acting secretary general of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), Fakhrul Islam Alamgir was arrested when police stormed the group’s headquarters. The BNP called for a nationwide strike last Tuesday in protest of the brutal police violence stemming from the trials being held over crimes committed during the nations independence war in 1971.  Leaders of the BNP and their ally, Jamaat-e- Islami are being tried for war crimes by the state-appointed war crimes court. The Bangladesh government blames the opposition leaders for being part of the militias that caused much of the carnage in the war. In  turn, the opposition accuses the government of staging a “witch hunt.” The first verdict in the ongoing war-crimes trial was reached on January 21st, sentencing two opposition leaders to death. Since then 85 people have died in clashes between the police and protesters.

by ICSR research intern Ashley Denee