We Can’t Confirm Abduction Of Women Yet – Adamawa Government

Phineas ElishaThe Adamawa State Government has said that it cannot confirm the reported abduction of about 60 women in Mangoro and Garta villages, in Madagali Local Government, by members of the Boko Haram terrorist group.

The Director of Press and Public Affairs to the Adamawa State Governor, Phineas Elisha, told Channels Television via the telephone that the government cannot presently access the area.

Hundreds of Boko Haram members were said to have overrun the town on motorcycles and vans in a rampage on Saturday.

Forty of the women were said to have been abducted in Waga, Mangoro and the other 20 were taken from Grata.

Also, residents said that the insurgents burnt houses and abducted many young women, forcing them to flee the area.

Al Qaeda Calls for New Recruits To Fight France

Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has appealed for new recruits from North African Arab countries in its fight against what it said was France’s Crusader campaign in Mali, a U.S.-based intelligence monitoring website reported on Sunday.

SITE said the appeal was posted on websites used by AQIM on Saturday, urging Islamist militants being pursued by their governments to join its fighters battling French-led forces in Mali or Algeria.

France launched a ground and air operation in Mali in January to break Islamist rebels’ hold on the region, saying the militants posed a risk to the security of West Africa and Europe.

“The front of the Islamic Maghreb today is in direst need of the support of the sons of Tunisia, Morocco, Libya, and Mauritania, to thwart the attack of Crusader France and defeat its agents in the region, and empower the Islamic project,” AQIM said, according to a translation of the statement emailed by SITE.

However, AQIM also said that if Islamist youths in North Africa could have a greater impact in their own countries, they should stay to fight secularism and push for the imposition of sharia-based rule.

France’s offensive has wrested northern Mali from Islamist occupation and killed scores of fighters. Other rebels have retreated into mountain caves and desert hiding places stocked with arms and supplies.

The Algerian army in January killed at least 32 al-Qaeda- linked militants in an assault to end a siege at a desert gas plant in which 23 hostages were killed, many of them foreigners.

Boko Haram Deserves No Compensation – CAN

In response to the Sultan of Sokoto’s demand for amnesty for the members of the Boko Haram sect, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) has said that the sect deserves no form of compensation.

In a press release signed by the General Secretary of the Christian body, Dr. Musa Asake, CAN expressed surprise at the request by the Sultan and President-General of the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA), Alhaji Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar III, maintaining that any attempt to placate the extremists is a plan to hoodwink the Presidency.

“We need to also remind the Sultan and others on the same page with him that terrorism is not about justice. It is about ideology. In this case, Boko Haram is founded on the premise of extreme Islamic ideology. It is, therefore, mischievous for those who understand this to hoodwink the President into actions that would be futile in the end,” the statement said.

In the light of the N100 million paid to the family of the late sect’s leader by the Borno State government, CAN demanded to know who would compensate the families of the victims of the killings by Boko Haram.

“We believe that for the talk about amnesty to hold water, the Islamist militant group must first of all renounce their extreme ideology and embrace the ceasefire plan.”

 

Kenyatta Takes Early Lead As Kenya Counts Votes

Kenyan presidential hopeful Uhuru Kenyatta opened an early lead as the country counted ballots on Tuesday in an election that brought out millions of voters despite pockets of violence that killed at least 15 people.

Kenyans, who had waited patiently in long lines to vote, hope the poll will restore the nation’s image as one of Africa’s most stable democracies after tribal blood-letting killed more than 1,200 people when the result of the 2007 vote was disputed.

Partial tallies from Monday’s broadly peaceful voting in the presidential election gave the edge to Kenyatta, the 51-year-old deputy prime minister, over his rival, Prime Minister Raila Odinga, 68.

Kenyatta’s lead held through counting overnight but could still be overhauled with about two-thirds of polling stations still to report. The election committee said counting might not be completed till Wednesday, delaying any official announcement.

“People want peace after what happened last time,” said Henry Owino, 29, a second-hand clothes seller who voted in Nairobi’s Kibera slum where violence flared five years ago. “This time the people have decided they don’t want to fight.”

But the real test will be whether the final result, when declared, is accepted or disputed and whether candidates or their backers turn to the street or court to raise challenges.

The United States and Western donors have watched the vote closely, concerned about the stability of a nation seen as a regional ally in the fight against militant Islam.

They also worry about what to do if Kenyatta wins, because he faces charges of crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court (ICC) related to the violence five years ago.

SOME JITTERS EASE

Investors breathed a sigh of relief after the broadly peaceful voting, strengthening the Kenyan shilling against the U.S. dollar. Analysts said a first-round victor would be welcomed by investors by averting a run-off, which would prolong uncertainty.

The inspector general of the Kenyan police, David Kimaiyo, told a news conference he would not allow demonstrations anywhere in the country over the delay in releasing the election results because of concerns protests could turn violent.

Kenyatta’s lead of 54 percent of votes counted so far to Odinga’s 41 percent puts him in a good position for a straight win but his lead could be eroded with just 4.2 million tallied by 10 a.m. (0700 GMT), provisional figures by the election commission showed.

Election officials said turnout was more than 70 percent, suggesting about 10 million or more votes need to be counted in the nation of 14.3 million eligible voters. Officials did not give a precise total for votes cast.

For outright victory, a candidate needs more than 50 percent of votes cast, otherwise the top two face a run-off election, tentatively set for April depending on any legal challenges. Odinga and Kenyatta ran neck-and-neck in pre-election polls.

“There were a lot of jitters around the elections,” said Dickson Magecha, a senior trader at Standard Chartered Bank. “But there are indications we might see a first-round victory, which is good for political risk, and the vote went on peacefully without any major hitches.”

William Ruto, Kenyatta’s running mate who also faces ICC charges of crimes against humanity, called the vote “free, fair and credible”. He also said during voting: “We shall cooperate with the court (ICC) with a final intention of clearing our names.”

But the party of Odinga, who had before the election suggested preparations for the poll had put him at a disadvantage, hinted that they might challenge the result, alleging voting irregularities.

Frank Bett of Odinga’s CORD alliance cited late voting at one polling station hours after the formal close, voters casting ballots more than once in some areas and a failure of electronic voter registration systems in some places. “These we find to be placing in jeopardy the credibility of this process,” he said.

The election commission earlier acknowledged a polling clerk had been caught issuing extra ballots and said manual voter lists were used where the electronic registration system failed. But it has said there were no significant problems in voting.

NERVOUS NEIGHBOURS

Raising the stakes in the race, Odinga could be facing his last crack at the presidency after narrowly missing out in 2007 to now-outgoing President Mwai Kibaki, who has served a maximum of two five-year terms.

Losing to Kenyatta, the son of Kenya’s first president after independence in 1963, would mark another defeat in his family’s ambitions after Odinga’s father also missed out on the top post.

Kenyans said memories of the post-2007 poll bloodshed and its dire impact on the economy were enough to prevent a repeat this time. Kenya’s African neighbors, whose economies felt the shockwaves, have been watching intently.

At least 15 people were killed in two attacks by machete-wielding gangs on the restive coast hours before voting started on Monday. Police officers blamed them on a separatist movement, the Mombasa Republican Council (MRC), suggesting different motives to the ethnic killings after the 2007 vote. MRC denied any role.

The European Union observer mission said turnout was high even at the coast where the attacks took place.

A suspected grenade attack struck near an election center in the eastern town of Garissa close to the border with Somalia, where Kenyan troops have been deployed to fight Islamist militants. That attack caused panic among voters but no injuries, a government official said.

To try to prevent a repeat of the contested outcome that sparked the violence after the December 2007 vote, a new, broadly respected election commission is using more technology to prevent fraud, speed up counting and increase transparency.

Alongside the presidential race, there were elections for senators, county governors, members of parliament, women representatives in county assemblies and civic leaders.

Kenya Elections: Somalia’s Al Shabaab Urges Muslims To Boycott Vote

Somali militants linked to al Qaeda urged Muslims to boycott Kenya’s presidential election on Monday and wage jihad against the Kenyan military which sent troops into neighboring Somalia in late 2011 to help crush the rebels.

The Islamist al Shabaab rebel group told Kenyan Muslims, who account for about 11 percent of the population, that the Nairobi government treated them as foreigners and second-class citizens.

“Your regions are the least developed in Kenya and have the least facilities. You have been misled by the false promises of the presidential candidates and the same empty promises are repeated on every election campaign,” al Shabaab said in a statement cited by the U.S.-based SITE service on Monday.

“What is incumbent upon you now is to … boycott the Kenyan elections and wage jihad against the Kenyan military for they cannot afford to continue fighting an invasion abroad as well as an internal conflict at home,” it said.

Kenya, voting for a new president on Monday, has suffered a wave of violent attacks since it sent soldiers into its anarchic neighbor in October, 2011, which Nairobi has typically blamed on al Shabaab and local sympathizers.

Most of the attacks have occurred in the capital and close to the Somali border

In Garissa, a largely Muslim town with a significant ethnic Somali population, two civilians were shot dead late on Sunday, local officials said. Earlier, the head of Kenyan police said the incident had been a grenade attack. A bomb also exploded in the Mandera area, near the border, wounding four people.

Under pressure from an African Union-led military offensive, al Shabaab has steadily lost territory and influence in Somalia over the past 18 months, but remains the biggest threat to regional stability. It has, however, failed to deliver on threats to carry out a spectacular attack in Kenya.

Kenya’s military intervention in Somalia earned widespread popular backing at home and has barely registered in election campaigning.

Islamists Kill French Soldier In Northern Mali

France said on Sunday a third French soldier had been killed in fierce fighting with Islamist rebels in northern Mali but could not confirm Chad’s report that its troops had killed the al Qaeda commander behind January’s mass hostage-taking in Algeria.

A whirlwind seven-week campaign has driven al Qaeda-linked fighters who took over northern Mali last April into mountain and desert redoubts, where they are being hunted by hundreds of French, Chadian and Malian troops.

France’s defense ministry said 26-year-old Corporal Cedric Charenton was shot dead on Saturday during an assault on an Islamist hideout in the desolate Adrar des Ifoghas mountains near Algeria, the third French soldier killed in the campaign.

French army spokesman Colonel Thierry Burkhard said some 15 Islamists were killed in some of the fiercest fighting during the campaign so far but that he could not confirm Chad’s claim that its troops had killed al Qaeda commander Mokhtar Belmokhtar at a nearby camp in the remote Ametetai valley.

“We are facing a very fanatical adversary,” Burkhard said, noting the Islamists were armed with rocket and grenade-launchers as well as machine guns, AK47 assault rifles and heavy weapons. “They are fighting without giving ground.”

The death of Belmokhtar, nicknamed ‘the uncatchable’, has been reported several times in the past and analysts share caution shown by Paris in confirming his demise.

However, the latest report came a day after Chadian President Idriss Deby said Chadian forces had also killed Abdelhamid Abou Zeid, al Qaeda’s other senior field commander in the Sahara.

The killing of Belmokhtar and Abou Zeid, if confirmed, would eliminate al Qaeda’s leadership in Mali and raise questions over the fate of seven French hostages thought to be held by the group in northern Mali, an area the size of Texas.

Rudy Attalah, a former senior U.S. counterterrorism official focused on Africa and now head of risk analysis firm White Mountain research, was skeptical about Chad’s claim.

He said Belmokhtar had in the past carefully avoided operating in the same area as Abou Zeid and was known as an elusive operator who shifted through the desert in small, mobile groups of fighters.

“I don’t think they killed him at all,” Atallah said, adding Chad might be seeking to divert domestic attention from its 26 soldiers killed in the operation. “Deby is under a lot of pressure. Announcing these killings redeems his troops.”

An unidentified participant in militant website discussions said in a message posted on several jihadi forums that Belmoktar was “alive and well and leading the battles himself”, the U.S.-based SITE monitoring service reported on Sunday.

Belmokhtar would soon issue a statement himself, SITE reported the participant saying.

‘MR MARLBORO’

Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has pledged to avenge the French assault on its fighters in Mali, which Paris said it launched due to fears its former colony could become a launch pad for wider al Qaeda attacks.

Belmokhtar, whose smuggling activities the Sahara earned him the nickname “Mr Marlboro”, became one of the world’s most wanted jihadis after masterminding the raid on the In Amenas gas plant in Algeria in which more than 60 people were killed, including dozens of foreign hostages.

Abou Zeid is regarded as one of AQIM’s most ruthless operators, responsible for the kidnapping of more than 20 Western hostages since 2008. He is believed to have killed British hostage Edwin Dyer in 2009 and 78-year-old Frenchman Michel Germaneau in 2010.

France and Mali have said they could not confirm his death.

French radio RFI and Algerian daily El Khabar have reported that DNA tests were being conducted on members of Abou Zeid’s family to confirm whether a body recovered after fighting in Adrar des Ifoghas was indeed the Islamist leader.

Mali’s army, meanwhile, said it had killed 52 Islamist rebels in desert fighting some 70 km (45 miles) east of Gao, northern Mali’s largest town, with support from French helicopters and ground troops.

“There was a big fight with lots of enemy killed,” said Lieutenant Colonel Nema Sagara, the Malian army’s deputy commander in Gao. “Our troops went out to battle and they met them. There are no dead on the Malian side.”

Chad Says Al Qaeda Commander Killed In Mali, France Cautious

One of al Qaeda’s most feared commanders in Africa, Abdelhamid Abou Zeid, has been killed by Chadian forces in northern Mali, Chad’s President Idriss Deby said on Friday.

French officials said they could not confirm the report.

“It was Chadian forces who killed two jihadi leaders, including Abou Zeid,” Deby told opposition politicians in the presence of journalists after a funeral ceremony for Chadian soldiers killed in fighting at the weekend.

Chadian soldiers with support from French special forces and fighter jets are hunting down pockets of al Qaeda-linked insurgents in the border region with Algeria after a seven-week French-led campaign broke Islamist domination of northern Mali.

The death of Abou Zeid, who has earned AQIM tens of millions of dollars with a spate of kidnappings of Westerners in the Sahara over the last five years, would be a significant but far from fatal blow to the group.

Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the one-eyed mastermind of a mass hostage-taking at the In Amenas gas plant in Algeria last month, remains at large. So does Tuareg Islamist leader Iyad ag Ghali, who was this week placed on the U.S. global terrorist list.

Sources close to Islamist militants and tribal elders had earlier said Abou Zeid, blamed for kidnapping at least 20 Westerners in the Sahara, was among 40 militants killed within the past few days in the foothills of the Adrar des Ifoghas mountains.

Algeria’s Ennahar television, which is well connected with Algerian security services, had reported his death on Thursday but there was no official confirmation.

A former smuggler turned jihadi, Algerian-born Abou Zeid is regarded as one of the most ruthless operators of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). He is believed to have executed British hostage Edwin Dyer in 2009 and 78-year-old Frenchman Michel Germaneau in 2010.

A trusted lieutenant of AQIM’s leader Abdelmalek Droukdel, Abou Zeid imposed a violent form of sharia law during Islamist domination of the ancient desert town of Timbuktu, including amputations and the destruction of ancient Sufi shrines.

“The death of Abou Zeid has been confirmed by several of his supporters who have come back from the mountains,” said Ibrahim Oumar Toure, a mechanic in the northern Malian town of Kidal who worked with Islamist rebels and remains in contact with them.

Members of the MNLA Tuareg rebel group, who have been acting as scouts for French and Chadian forces, said Islamist prisoners seized during the fighting confirmed Abou Zeid and another militant leader had been killed.

However, French government spokeswoman Najat Vallaud-Belkacem said she could neither confirm nor deny the report, and French officials urged caution. An official MNLA spokesman said the group had no evidence to prove he was dead.

French radio RFI and Algerian daily El Khabar reported that DNA tests were being conducted on members of Abou Zeid’s family to confirm whether a body recovered by French troops after fighting in Adrar des Ifoghas was indeed the Islamist leader.

HOLLANDE SAYS OPERATION NEARS END

In a speech on Friday, French President Francois Hollande said the operation in Mali was in its final stage and he was not obliged to confirm Abou Zeid’s death.

“Terrorist groups have taken refuge and are hiding in an especially difficult zone,” he said. “Information is out there. I don’t have to confirm it because we must reach the end of the operation.”

A U.S. official and a Western diplomat, however, said the reports appeared to be credible.

According to local sources in Kidal, MNLA Tuareg rebels, who are working with French forces, had located Abou Zeid’s fighters and handed over the coordinates for French jets to strike.

“They were hidden in mountain caves and were building bombs for suicide attacks when they were killed,” Toure said.

Abou Zeid’s death will be of particular interest to the French government as he is believed to be holding at least four French citizens kidnapped from Niger in 2010.

After its success in dislodging al Qaeda fighters from northern Mali’s towns, France and its African allies have faced a mounting wave of suicide bombings and guerrilla-style raids by Islamists in northern Malian towns.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in Geneva on Friday that a U.N. peacekeeping force to replace French troops in Mali should be discussed as soon as possible.