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.

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.”

Al Qaeda Commander Abou Zeid Killed In Mali

French forces have killed Abdelhamid Abou Zeid, one of the most feared commanders of al Qaeda’s north Africa wing, during an operation against Islamist fighters in mountainous northern Mali, Algeria’s Ennahar television said on Thursday.

Abou Zeid was among 40 militants killed three days ago in the foothills of the Adrar des Ifoghas mountains near the Algerian border, said Ennahar, which is well connected with Algeria’s security services.

French and Chadian troops have been hunting fighters there after a lightning campaign to dislodge them from northern Mali.

A spokesman for France’s Elysee presidential palace declined to comment. Algeria’s government, Malian and Chadian officials could not confirm Abou Zeid’s killing.

A U.S. official said the reports that Abou Zeid had been killed appeared to be credible and that Washington would view his death as a serious blow to al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

A French army official, who would not comment on Abou Zeid, confirmed that about 40 Islamists had been killed in heavy fighting over the last week in the mountainous Tigargara region.

The official said 1,200 French troops, 800 Chadian soldiers and some elements of the Malian army were still in combat to the south of Tessalit in the Adrar mountain range.

Ten logistics sites and an explosives factory had been destroyed in the operation as well as 16 vehicles, she said.

France launched the assault on January 11 to retake Mali’s vast desert north from AQIM and other Islamist rebels after a plea from Mali’s government to halt the militants’ drive southward.

The intervention swiftly dislodged rebels from northern Mali’s main towns and drove them back into the surrounding desert and mountains, particularly the Adrar des Ifoghas.

Abou Zeid, regarded as one of AQIM’s most ruthless operators, is an Algerian former smuggler turned jihadist who is believed to be behind the kidnapping of more than 20 Westerners in the lawless Sahara over the last five years, earning AQIM tens of millions of dollars in ransom payments.

He is believed to have executed British national Edwin Dyer in 2009 and 78-year-old Frenchman, Michel Germaneau, in 2010.

FLED TIMBUKTU WITH HOSTAGES

Canadian diplomat Robert Fowler, in an account of his kidnapping by another Islamist cell in the Sahara, recounted how Abou Zeid refused to give medication to two hostages suffering from dysentery, one of whom had been stung by a scorpion.

After a loose alliance of Islamist groups seized northern Mali from April last year, Abou Zeid took control of the ancient desert trading town of Timbuktu, employing a violently extreme form of sharia, including amputations and the destruction of ancient Sufi shrines.

Timbuktu elders who dealt directly with him during the Islamist occupation described a short man with a grey beard and a quiet, severe manner who was never seen without an AK-47 rifle.

Locals said that when he fled Timbuktu, before the town fell to the French-led military advance, he took several blindfolded Western hostages in his convoy.

Born in 1965 in the Debdab region of Algeria’s Illizi province, close to the Libyan border, Abou Zeid joined the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) during the 1990s civil war, which later transformed itself into AQIM.

Abou Zeid is regarded by some as one of AQIM’s radicals, unwilling to negotiate or make concessions, compared with the more diplomatic approach of his fellow Saharan commander Belmokhtar, the mastermind of the mass hostage taking at the In Amenas gas plant in Algeria last month.

Fowler, the Canadian diplomat who encountered them both while held hostage, told Reuters last month that Abou Zeid in person was more genial than the austere, “all-business” Belmokhtar.

The two very different men are reported to have a strong rivalry within AQIM, which some analysts have suggested was behind Belmokhtar’s decision to found his own brigade last year.

African Leaders Call For U.N. Mandate For Mali Mission

West African leaders on Thursday called for a regional military operation against al Qaeda-linked rebels in north Mali to be transformed into a U.N. peacekeeping mission as quickly as possible to secure desperately needed funding.

France sent troops into its former colony last month to drive out Islamist fighters, claiming their seizure of Mali’s north last year posed a threat to international security.

Paris hopes that from March it can start withdrawing its 4,000 troops but is awaiting the effective deployment of an African force (AFISMA), plagued by logistical and financing setbacks.

Meeting in Ivory Coast’s capital Yamoussoukro, presidents from West Africa’s regional bloc ECOWAS backed calls from France, the United States and Mali itself for the mission to receive a U.N. peacekeeping mandate.

“This shouldn’t distract from ongoing operations on the ground,” ECOWAS commission president Kadre Desire Ouedraogo told Reuters.

“It’s simply an indication that, once peace has returned, we need the support of the United Nations system both for logistical and financial support.”

Some two thirds of the 8,000 troops of the African-led mission (AFISMA) have deployed to Mali.

Many still lack the capacity to carry out combat operations and remain in southern Mali, leaving French forces and around 2,000 troops from Chad to secure northern towns and hunt down Islamist fighters hiding in desert and mountain redoubts.

After struggling for months to secure funding for its deployment, international donors pledged over $455 million for Mali at a meeting in Addis Ababa last month.

With the number of troops more than doubling since deployment plans were first hashed out last year, ECOWAS projects the cost of the mission at nearly $1 billion this year.

Transformation to a peacekeeping mission would ensure funding from the United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations and facilitate the deployment of air assets essential for moving troops in Mali’s vast northern desert.

However, a decision by the U.N. Security Council remains weeks, if not months, away. France’s U.N. envoy said on Wednesday that the Security Council would ask Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to report by end-March on the possibility of creating a peacekeeping force.

Despite the rapid French advance which has seen the Islamists’ former urban strongholds rapidly retaken, security on the ground in Mali remains tenuous, amid a mounting wave of guerilla raids on towns and suicide attacks.

French and Chadian forces are currently hunting die-hard Islamists holed up in the Adrar des Ifoghas mountains. Algerian television reported on Thursday that French troops there had killed Abdelhamid Abou Zeid, a leading al Qaeda field commander.

78 Killed in Mali Conflict

At least 78 people have been killed in a heavy fight, in a remote part of northern Mali including 13 soldiers and 65 Islamist insurgents.

Chadian military officials say Friday’s clash occurred in the Ifoghas Mountains, where many militants are believed to be hiding.

The Islamist rebels are believed to have retreated to the Ifoghas Mountains in the Kidal region near the border with Algeria after they were forced out from strategic towns in the north of the country.

Last month France led an operation to help oust Islamists who seized the vast northern region of Mali in 2012.

Thousands of soldiers from African countries have also been deployed in Mali to help put the situation under control.

Egypt Crisis: Protesters Rally To Mark Revolution

There has been a clash between the Police and protesters gathering in Tahrir Square in the Egyptian capital, Cairo, ahead of the second anniversary of the uprising that swept Hosni Mubarak from power.

President Mohammed Morsi’s opponents plan a rally, accusing the Islamist leader of betraying the revolution.

Mr Morsi denies the claim, and has called for “peaceful” celebrations.

An appeals court recently overturned Mr Mubarak’s life sentence over the deaths of protesters and ordered a retrial.

The 84-year-old former leader remains in detention at a military hospital.

On Thursday evening, police clashed with protesters who tried to remove barriers blocking a road to Tahrir Square.

The clashes continued overnight, as police fired tear gas at demonstrators camping on the square. At least eight people were wounded, officials said.

Mr Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood party has not officially called for its own street rallies. It plans to mark the revolution by launching charitable and social initiatives.

Protesters began converging on Tahrir Square on Friday morning.

One of them, Hanna Abu el-Ghar, told the BBC: “We are protesting against the fact that after two years of the revolution, where we asked for bread, freedom and social justice, none of our dreams have come true.”

The liberal opposition accuses Mr Morsi of being autocratic and driving through a new constitution that favours Islamists and does not sufficiently protect the rights of women or Christians.

Ahead of the planned rally Mohamed ElBaradei, a leading opposition figure and former head of the UN Atomic Agency, said in a statement: “I call on everyone to take part and go out to every place in Egypt to show that the revolution must be completed.”

The government is also being blamed for a deepening economic crisis.

The President has dismissed the opposition’s claims as unfair, instead of calling for a national dialogue.

Mr Morsi and his supporters accuse their opponents of undermining democracy by failing to respect the Islamists’ victory in elections a year ago.

5 People Beheaded In Maiduguri

The Nigeria Police has come out to announce the death of five people in an attack by Islamists in Maiduguri, yesterday.

Two witnesses, who asked not to be named, said they heard cries for help at around 2:30 a.m. from a house in the Jiddari Polo area of Maiduguri and later saw five dead bodies with what looked like machete wounds.

“Five people were slaughtered today but we can’t say who did it because they fled before security personnel arrived,” police spokesman Gabriel Jibrin said by phone.

Separately, residents and a Reuters witness said they heard a loud explosion and around 30 minutes of gunfire in the town, close to borders with Niger and Chad.

Military and police said it was too early to give any details on any casualties from the explosion and gun battle.

This is the third attack by the terrorists in the region, this week.

Gunmen suspected of being members of Boko Haram killed 13 local hunters who sell bush meat Islamist militants disapprove of on Monday.

Suspected members of the Islamist sect riding on motorbikes shot dead five people playing an outdoor board game on Tuesday. Two others were wounded.

Gunmen Kill 23 In Kano And Borno

Gunmen killed 23 people in northern Nigeria in attacks that appeared to target gamblers and people selling ‘forbidden’ meat that Islamist militants disapprove of, officials and locals said yesterday.

In the deadliest attack, late on Monday, gunmen opened fire at a market in the town of Damboa in Borno state North East Nigeria, targeting local hunters who sell bush meat from animals such as monkeys and pigs, which strict Muslims are forbidden to eat, a local official said.

“Gunmen suspected to be members of BH (Islamist sect Boko Haram) came to the town market and shot dead 13 local hunters on the spot while five others died from their injuries at the hospital,” Alhaji Abba Ahmed said. “They came to the market in a Volkswagen Golf car, carried out the operation and left.”

In a separate attack in the north’s biggest city of Kano, some 500 km (310 miles) west of Damboa, on Tuesday, suspected Boko Haram members riding on motorbikes shot dead five people playing an outdoor board game, witnesses and a hospital source who received the bodies said. Two others were wounded.

Damboa is in the remote northeast, the sect’s heartland near the borders with Niger, Cameroon and Chad.

President Goodluck Jonathan told Reuters in Geneva on Tuesday that tackling global jihadists is in Nigeria’s interest because of the links between its Islamists and those in the desert states to the north, like Mali. An Islamist group known as Ansarudine, which has been blamed for abducting and killing Westerners, claimed responsibility for an attack on Nigerian troops heading to Mali on Sunday that killed two officers.

Militants have killed several hundred people in the past three years in a campaign to impose sharia, Islamic law, on Nigeria. Their targets include the security forces and churches, although they have killed more Muslims than Christians.

Gunmen also fired on the convoy of Emir of Kano, Alhaji Ado Bayero in Kano on Saturday, killing six people.

Eid-el-Fitri Celebration: Better save than sorry -Ahmed Sule

Ahmed Sule the Arewa Consultative Forum General Secretary (ACF) says the serene atmosphere witnessed on the festive morning is not unexpected as most Nigerians decided to stay indoors for the fear of bomb explosions and secondly the harsh economy of the country too was contributory.