U.S. Commander Sees Al Qaeda Africa Group Strengthening

al-qeedaTwo high-profile strikes in West Africa since November by al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) could further strengthen the Islamist militant group, a U.S. commander for North and West Africa said.

AQIM, a militant group that emerged from the Algerian civil war in the 1990s and is now mostly north Mali-based, is emerging from a period of near dormancy marked by factional infighting.

The group, linked to veteran jihadist Mokhtar Belmokhtar, claimed two hotel sieges in the Mali and Burkina Faso capitals in November and January that killed dozens, including many Westerners, proving its ability to strike further south.

Some experts say the urban attacks, and a slew of recent propaganda, may be a bid to compete with ultra-hardline group Islamic State, which now has a base in Libya.

“(The hotel attacks) raised the profile of the group and will help the group do a (few) things,” said Colonel Bob Wilson, Third Special Forces Group Commander, in an interview with Reuters and The New York Times in Dakar this week.

“One, show that it’s still relevant. Two, help it to recruit personnel and commit resources. And three, create the impetus to do more attacks like that,” he said on a visit to Senegal during the annual U.S.-led ‘Flintlock’ counter-terror training program in the Sahel region.

The United States has its own Africa Command with between 1,000-1,200 forces on the continent at any given time, mostly in training and support roles. Wilson’s North and West Africa command is the largest of three regional groups, with around 500 deployed across a dozen countries.

U.S. officials say this year’s event is marked by a growing threat of Islamic State (ISIS) in Libya, Boko Haram in the Lake Chad Basin and AQIM in the Sahel which, while deeply concerning, is also boosting African security cooperation.

Wilson said he expects ISIS to spread beyond Libya to other African countries in the next year, echoing fears expressed by Niger and Chad to the south.

The Islamic State has thousands of fighters in the former Italian colony and controls parts of Libya’s northern coastal strip, including the city of Sirte.

“I think it (ISIS) is going to expand beyond Libya where it can find subordinate elements to cooperate with,” he said, adding that he was worried about “increased collusion and cooperation” between militant groups.

He declined to comment on plans for special operations in Libya amid speculation of possible Western air strikes.

Wilson welcomed the creation of a regional task force last year to fight Nigeria’s Boko Haram, which has pledged allegiance to ISIS and is blamed for 15,000 deaths.

But he said the countries involved — Nigeria, Chad, Niger, Cameroon and Benin — have yet to prove that they can work effectively together in joint operations and that a regional headquarters is still “nascent”.

Burkina Faso Attack: Foreigners Killed At Luxury Hotel

Burkina Faso AttackBurkina Faso’s government says 28 people were killed and 56 injured after Islamist militants attacked a hotel in the capital, Ouagadougou.

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (Aqim) has said it carried out the attack, which began on Friday night.

Canadian country’s Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, said six of those killed were from his country.

Burkina Faso is to observe 72 hours of national mourning for the victims.

The siege at the splendid hotel popular with foreigners, was declared after a joint operation by local and french security forces.

At least four attackers died in the assaults. There were claims that some of those involved were women.

As well as the luxury hotel, a cafe and another hotel nearby were targeted.

Burkinabe Security Minister, Simon Compoare, said that 176 hostages had been rescued. The bodies of three “very young” attackers had been found.

The BBC reported that the Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb grew from a remnant of a defunct rebel force, rooted in Algeria’s civil war in the 1990s, into a wealthy and feared militant group that made its money from kidnapping Westerners and trafficking arms and drugs.

In 2007, it announced it had joined the Al-Qaeda network to fight against Western interests. Later, some of its members left to form their own factions.

The most notable of these was Mokhtar Belmokhtar who was behind the 2013 siege of a gas plant in Algeria.

In November 2015 Belmokhtar’s faction said it had worked with its parent group to attack a hotel in Mali. That signaled the mending of relations between some of the factions to rebuild the original AQIM, which was being overshadowed by its rival, the so-called Islamic State.

 

Top Islamist Mokhtar Belmokhtar ‘killed’ in US strike

belmokhtarThe Libyan government has reported that a top Islamic militant ‘Mokhtar Belmokhtar’ who ordered a deadly attack on an Algerian gas plant two years ago has been killed in a US air strike in Libya.

Mokhtar Belmokhtar and other fighters were killed in the raid by aircraft in the eastern city of Ajdabiya.

The US confirmed that Belmokhtar was targeted, but did not say he had died.

The Pentagon Spokesman, Colonel Steve Warren, described the strike as successful and that officials were still assessing its results.

He said it would “provide more details as appropriate”.

Born in Algeria, Belmokhtar was a former senior figure in Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), but left to form his own militia.

He was reported to have gained notoriety with the attack on the In Amenas gas plant in Algeria in 2013, when about 800 people were taken hostage and 40 killed, most of whom were foreigners, including six Britons and three Americans.

There have been several false reports concerning Belmokhtar’s death.

In 2013, Belmokhtar was believed to have died fighting in Mali.

He has earned a reputation as one of the most elusive Jihadi leaders in the region.

Since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 and Libya’s slide into chaos and fighting between two rival governments, the North African state has seen the rise of Islamic militant groups, who have taken advantage of the turmoil.

Mali Rebels Torch Timbuktu Manuscript Library – Mayor

Islamist fighters fleeing Mali’s ancient Saharan city of Timbuktu as French and Malian troops closed in, set fire to a South African-funded library there containing thousands of priceless manuscripts, the city’s mayor said on Monday.

Mr. Halle Ousmani Sisse said the Islamist rebels, who had occupied the fabled trading town since a Tuareg-led rebellion captured it on April 1, 2012 from government forces, also torched his office and the home of a member of parliament.

The newly-constructed Ahmed Baba Institute, one of several libraries and collections in the city containing fragile ancient documents dating back to the 13th century, built by the South Africans was also torched four days ago.

Ahmed Baba Institute is named after a Timbuktu-born contemporary of William Shakespeare and houses more than 20,000 scholarly manuscripts; some stored in underground vaults.

Fighters from the Islamist alliance in the north of Mali, made up of AQIM, the Malian Islamist group Ansar Dine and AQIM splinter MUJWA, had also destroyed ancient shrines sacred to moderate Sufi Muslims, provoking international outrage.

French and Malian troops were securing the city on Monday.

Nigeria arrests five over kidnap of German engineer

Security sources confirmed on Tuesday that Nigerian authorities arrested five men, including a foreigner from Mauritania, who are believed to have ties to Al-Qaeda’s north African branch and are involved with the kidnapping of a German national in January.

According to reports, four of the five suspects had been arrested during a raid on a store owned by a Mauritanian last week and the fifth detained in a different raid.

“Guns and a laptop were recovered in the store and the documents found in the computer, including an AQIM operation manual, showed that the suspects are linked to AQIM and were involved in the kidnap of the German engineer in January,” one of the sources said in describing the store raid.

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, AQIM, claimed responsibility for the kidnap of German engineer Edgar Raupach, who was abducted in Kano in January. The radical group said in a statement last week that they were willing to swap him for a jailed Muslim woman.

Nigeria has recently faced criticism over its failed bid to rescue an Italian and British hostage earlier this month. The hostages had been killed by their captors during the failed rescue op by combined British and Nigerian forces.

Gunmen kidnap Lebanese business man in Edo State

Police officials on Thursday confirmed that gunmen have kidnapped a Lebanese businessman in Edo state, the second abduction in one week.

State police spokesman Etim Bassey confirmed that the kidnapping had taken place “on March 20 in Auchi by some unidentified gunmen who scaled the fences of his house and took him away”.

The spokesman said the culprits were yet to make any demands, adding that the man in question was a private business owner.

His kidnapping is one of a rash of recent abductions that have spread through Nigeria’s oil-producing regions in recent months.

Recently, Al Qaeda’s north Africa branch said it was holding another German engineer who had been kidnapped in Nigeria two months ago.

According to a Mauritania news agency, Al Qaeda in Maghreb (AQIM) said it was willing to negotiate the release of the captive with that of a jailed Muslim woman.

“We inform you that your compatriot Edgar Fritz Raupach is a prisoner of fighters from AQIM,” the group said in a statement published by the ANI agency.

The group demanded in the statement that the woman, Felis Lowitz, a recent Islam convert who now goes by the name Um Seiv Al-Islam Al-Ansariya, be released from her detention in Germany where they claim she is being tortured.

According to AFP reports, a video obtained by the ANI news agency showed Raupach, surrounded by masked gunmen with his hands tied behind his back.

In the video, Raupach, an engineer, called on his “parents, friends and German public opinion” to convince Berlin to “bring an end to the torture of our Muslim sister”, adding that his life depended on her freedom.

AQIM warned against any heroic rescue efforts, adding that his fate would be the same as that of Italian engineer Franco Lamolinara and British colleague Chris McManus, who were killed earlier this month during a failed rescue bid by British and Nigerian forces.

Germany confirmed Raupach, who was kidnapped on 25 January, is a citizen and construction company Bilfinger Berger has said he is one of their employees.