24 Malian Soldiers Killed In Ambush By Suspected Jihadists

Troops of the Malian army patrol the ancient town of Djenne in central Mali on February 28, 2020. A week earlier Mali's Prime Minister announced the dismantling of the security checkpoints organized by the traditional militia hunters Dan Na Ambassagou from Dogon country. MICHELE CATTANI / AFP
Troops of the Malian army patrol the ancient town of Djenne in central Mali on February 28, 2020. 
MICHELE CATTANI / AFP

 

A weekend ambush on a military convoy in central Mali left 24 soldiers dead and an unspecified number missing, the army said Monday, blaming the assault on jihadists.

In posts on social media, the army did not enumerate the missing but said eight soldiers escaped the attack on around a dozen vehicles Sunday at Bouka Were, around 100 kilometres (60 miles) from the border with Mauritania.

It was the latest in a string of assaults by jihadists who unleashed a revolt in northern Mali in 2012 that has spread to Burkina Faso and Niger despite the presence of thousands of French and UN troops.

A senior military official said earlier that some of the vehicles were able to extricate themselves from the ambush, but that of the 64 troops who had been in the convoy, only about 20 were present at a roll call, the source said.

“A search is under way to determine the fate of soldiers who have been listed missing,” he said on condition of anonymity.

Another military officer and an official in the nearby town of Diabaly, who also asked not to be named, confirmed his account.

The Islamist insurgency, mainly led by groups linked to Al-Qaeda or the so-called Islamic State group, has claimed thousands of military and civilian lives and forced hundreds of thousands from their homes.

Violence in recent months has engulfed central Mali, an ethnic mosaic where the state exercises little control and jihadist atrocities feed tit-for-tat assaults among rival communities.

The al-Qaeda-linked group Katiba Macina, led by an ethnic Fulani (Peul) called Amadou Koufa, is recruiting among the Fulani herding community, which has long been at odds with the Bambara and Dogon farming groups. These groups, in turn, have created their own “self-defence” organisations.

On Saturday, two Egyptian soldiers with the UN peacekeeping force MINUSMA were killed when their convoy came under attack in northwestern Mali, the United Nations said.

– Keita under pressure –

The violence has weakened the hand of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, who is facing a rising clamour of protest and demands for political renewal.

Tens of thousands of people rallied in the capital Bamako on June 5 on the heels of demonstrations in May over the outcome of parliamentary elections, which the president won, as well as over coronavirus restrictions.

More protests have been scheduled for this Friday.

Keita, who has been in power since 2013 in the former French colony, on Sunday reached out to the coalition behind the protests, saying, “My door is open and my hand always extended.”

After jihadist attacks surged in February, Keita broke with precedent to say that he was seeking to forge a dialogue with certain rebel leaders.

“The number of deaths in the Sahel is becoming exponential and it’s time that certain paths be explored,” he said in an interview with French media.

However, Keita said at the time of his announcement that he had not received a response from jihadist leaders, and indications have yet to emerge that any such dialogue has developed.

US-Led Coalition Air Strikes Leaves 27 Dead In Eastern Syria

 

Air strikes by the US-led coalition killed 13 jihadist fighters and 14 of their relatives Friday in eastern Syria, a war monitor said.

The strikes came two days after US President Donald Trump’s decision to pull troops out of Syria raised fears the Islamic State group would use the vacuum to regroup.

“At least 27 people were killed this morning in Al-Shaafa,” Rami Abdel Rahman, the head of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told AFP.

He said eight children were among the 14 civilian victims and added several people were seriously wounded in the strikes.

READ ALSO: US Military Signs Trump’s Order To Pull Out Of Syria

The raids targeted IS positions in Al-Shaafa, one of the two main villages in the last pocket of territory still controlled by IS in the Euphrates River valley.

Close to 1,000 IS fighters have been killed since Kurdish-led forces, backed by coalition air strikes, launched an operation on that pocket in September.

Trump said he was ordering a withdrawal of the estimated 2,000 US troops in Syria because IS had been defeated, an assessment rubbished by many, including in his own camp.

On Friday, the leadership of the Kurdish force that has spearheaded the fight against IS warned it might have to pull back from the anti-jihadist front if a US withdrawal invites a Turkish military assault against them.

According to the Observatory, 545 members of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces were killed battling IS since the start of the operation on September 10.

Mali Extends Emergency By A Year

 

Jihadist-hit Mali on Thursday extended by a year a state of emergency in place since a deadly November 2015 attack on a top hotel in the capital Bamako which claimed 20 lives.

The state of emergency was due to expire at the end of this month and the cabinet approved the extension, a statement said Thursday.

It gives authorities greater powers to take measures to pre-empt attacks and accords more powers to security forces and judicial authorities, the government said.

The extension was necessary to “reinforce preventive measures to prevent the threat of attacks on people and their goods,” it said.

The eighth largest country in Africa and one of the poorest in the world, the landlocked Sahel state has been grappling with violence since 2012.

Tuareg rebels staged an uprising in northern Mali which jihadists then exploited to take over key cities.

The extremists were routed in a French-led military operation in 2013 but large stretches of the country remain out of government control.

In central Mali, the situation has been made even more unstable by a resurgence of violence between ethnic groups, notably Fulani nomadic herders and Dogon farmers over access to land.

AFP

Pope Francis Arrives In Cairo

Pope Francis was greeted by Egyptian Prime Minister Sherif Ismail upon his arrival at Cairo airport on Friday, as the pontiff began a two-day visit in which he hopes to mend ties with Islamic religious leaders just as Egypt’s ancient Christian community faces unprecedented pressure from Islamic State militants who have threatened to wipe it out.

Francis will meet President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, the Grand Imam of al-Azhar – the world’s most influential seat of Sunni Islamic theology and learning, and Pope Tawadros II – head of the Coptic Orthodox Church who narrowly escaped a church bombing in Alexandria on Palm Sunday.

Francis is expected to give his key address to a conference on religious dialogue at Al-Azhar, part of efforts to improve relations with the 1,000-year-old centre after Egyptian Muslim leaders cut ties in 2011 over what they said were repeated insults against Islam by Pope Benedict.

Ties were restored last year after Tayeb visited the Vatican.

Tayeb, widely considered among the most moderate clerics in Egypt, has condemned Islamic State and its practice of declaring others as apostates and infidels as a pretext for waging violent jihad.

Reuters

Njaba Residents Reluctant To Return After B’Haram Massacre

Army_BokoReports reaching us from Njaba village in Borno state reveal that residents who were lucky to have fled a spine-chilling attack by the Boko Haram sect, which left dozens of people dead four days ago, are unwilling to return because of the absence of security operatives in the place.

The gunmen were said to have stormed the village targeting men and boys before setting houses on fire on Tuesday but news of the incident did not come out due to the remoteness of the village.

Eye witnesses said that the attack, which took place as the residents were holding prayers, sent everyone running into the bush for safety, with dead bodies scattered all over the area, some of them with their throats cut.

Although an uneasy calm has returned to Njaba village where at least 45 people were killed by the terrorists, according to unnamed military sources and vigilante groups who spoke to Reuters news agency.

A senior local government official in Damboa about 20 km from Njaba, who also declined to be named, said that most of the victims were teenagers.

The unnamed military source told Reuters that the attack was not immediately known because the village is very remote and troops could not access the area.

Boko Haram’s six-year insurgency to carve out an Islamic state in the northeast of Nigeria has killed thousands and displaced over 1.5 million people.

ISIS: American Hostage Kayla Muller Killed In Syria Bombing

isisIslamic State ISIS militants claimed on Friday that a US female hostage, Kayla Muller, has been killed in a Jordan air strike in Syria.

Report says that the woman died during air strikes on Raqqa. Ms Mueller was working with Syrian refugees when she was kidnapped in 2013.

Jordan said it carried out aerial bombardments on ISIS targets in Syria on Thursday. The strikes were carried out in response to the killing of a Jordanian fighter pilot by ISIS militants.

The US state department said it could not confirm the reports, but “people are looking into them”.

A video of Moaz al-Kasasbeh being burned alive in a cage was posted online by ISIS earlier this week. He was captured by militants in December after his F-16 fighter jet crashed in Syria. The video is believed to have been filmed on 3 January.

Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh said Thursday’s strikes were “the beginning of our retaliation” against ISIS. He also said, “We’re upping the ante. We’re going after them wherever they are, with everything that we have,” he said.

Thousands rallied in Jordan’s capital, Amman, on Friday morning in support of their government’s military response.

ISIS reported on Twitter that, “The criminal Crusader coalition aircraft bombarded a site outside the city of Ar-Raqqah today at noon while the people were performing the Friday prayer.

The report remains unconfirmed and a person close to the case, who has spoken to the hostage’s family, said her parents had not been notified by the White House or other official sources.

According to the ISIS site, a group that monitors online jihadi messages, the Islamic State reported on Twitter that Mueller, of Prescott, Ariz., “was killed when she was buried beneath the rubble of the building”.

 

 

 

 

 

Gaza Crisis: Israel, Palestine Hold Indirect Talks In Cairo

A Palestinian woman walks past destroyed buildings in Beit Lahiya in the northern Gaza StripA Gaza truce was holding on Wednesday, as Egyptian mediators pursued talks with Israeli and Palestinian representatives on an enduring end to a war that has devastated the Hamas Islamist- dominated enclave.

Egyptian intelligence officials met in Cairo with a high-level Israeli delegation late on Tuesday, a day after conferring with Palestinians who included envoys from Hamas and the Islamic Jihad group, Egyptian officials said.

“The indirect talks between the Palestinians and Israelis are moving forward,” one Egyptian official said, making clear that the opposing sides were not meeting face to face. “It is still too early to talk about outcomes but we are optimistic.”

Egyptian and Palestinian sources said further discussions were expected to be held in Cairo on Wednesday, with expectations of an initial response by Israel to Palestinian demands, which it has so far shown no sign of accepting.

Israel withdrew ground forces from the Gaza Strip on Tuesday morning and started a 72-hour Egyptian-brokered ceasefire with Hamas as a first step towards a long-term deal.

In Gaza, where some half-million people have been displaced by a month of bloodshed, some residents left UN shelters to trek back to neighbourhoods where whole blocks have been destroyed by Israeli shelling and the smell of decomposing bodies fills the air.

 

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.

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.

Mali Islamists Flee To Sudan’s Darfur Region

Islamist fighters from Mali have reached Sudan’s western Darfur region after fleeing French air strikes and advancing ground troops, a Sudanese rebel group said on Friday.

French troops have pushed militants out of cities and into desert and mountain hideouts in a four-week operation to prevent Mali becoming a base for attacks in Africa and Europe.

“We have confirmed that some Mali fighters are in Darfur,” said Gibreel Adam, spokesman for the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) rebel group in Darfur.

Western governments fear that al Qaeda-linked fighters will cross African borders as they seek refuge.

Law and order has collapsed in large parts of Darfur since mainly non-Arab rebels took up arms against the Sudanese government in 2003.

Adam said an unknown number of fighters from Mali had entered Darfur through Sudan’s remote southwestern border with the Central African Republic.

“They are in Um Dafuq and other areas in the north and south of western Darfur,” he said.

The Sudanese foreign ministry and army could not be reached for comment.

Radio Dabanga, a Netherlands-based Darfuri station, said local sources had reported the arrival of Mali fighters in North Darfur.

The fighters, distinguished by their look and language, had arrived with armed Land Cruisers in Kutum and Adumur in North Darfur, the station said.

France has deployed nearly 4,000 ground troops as well as warplanes and armored vehicles in Operation Serval which has broken the Islamist militants’ 10-month grip on northern towns.

It is now due to hand over to a U.N.-backed African force.

Be Cautious of Boko Haram’s Ceasefire Announcement, Army Chief Warns FG

The Chief of Defence Staff, Admiral Ola Sahaad has asked the Federal Government to treat the ceasefire declared by a faction of the Boko Haram Islamic sect with caution.

Admiral Sahaad, who spoke with reporters after a meeting in Abuja, also called on government to strengthen its security operations all over the country to avert further attacks by the group.

According to him, defence officials are excited on the declaration of ceasefire by members of the sect but, will not rest on its oars in ensuring the security of lives and properties in Nigeria.

Other security officials in the country also commended members of the group for the ceasefire.

A faction of the Boko Haram sect had on Monday declared ceasefire after allegedly holding talks with “officials of Borno State Government and leaders of thought from the state”.

“I am announcing this ceasefire with the approval and consent of the leader Sheikh Abubakar Shekau. We, therefore, call on all our members to stop all acts of violent immediately and await further directives,” said Sheikh Abdul Aziz, who introduced himself as the second in command to Mr Shekau.

He added that members of the Boko Haram should relate the ceasefire message to those “who are not aware or informed of today’s (Monday) development.”

Aziz explained: “The Boko Haram ceasefire is nationwide and commences immediately.”

He, however, denied the group’s involvement in the recent attacks and killings in Borno and other parts of the North, attributing the violence to the activities of armed robbers and other criminals that allegedly operate under the guise of Boko Haram.

While speaking on the violence that took over Maiduguri recently, Aziz distanced the group from such acts, pointing out that such attacks were politically-motivated by those seeking power in the Borno Emirate Council, government or otherwise, but not in line with the ideology of the group who are fighting for the cause of Allah.

He also urged the Joint Task Force (JTF) and other security agents to respond positively to the ceasefire.

He said: “Talks with government officials on how to surrender our arms and weapons has also commenced,” urging members of the sect to cooperate fully, by surrendering their arms and weapons to security agents.

The group had on 1 November 2012 said they were ready to ceasefire and listed some conditions. The conditions included the arrest and prosecution of a former governor of Borno State, and also that the dialogue must take place in Saudi Arabia.

They had also demanded that all their members, who were arrested and under the custody of security agencies be released immediately, just as their wives and children who were displaced following the crises should be rehabilitated into the society to allow room for dialogue with the Federal Government.

Nigerian mediators who were to represent the group in the dialogue with the Federal Government had included Shettima Ali Monguno, Muhammadu Buhari, Bukar Abba Ibrahim, Ambassador Gaji Galtimari and Barrister Aisha Wakil and her husband.

Boko Haram, which in Hausa, loosely translates to mean “Western education is sinful”, said they were fighting to impose Islamic law on Nigeria.
At least 2,800 people have died in the North and Abuja since the group unleashed violence in 2009. Its most lethal attack killed at least 186 people in Kano in January 2012 in co-ordinated bombings and shootings.

The group has repeatedly struck churches during services, at Christmas and Easter killing scores of people. A bomb attack on St. Theresa’s Catholic Church in Madalla on Abuja’s outskirts during a packed Christmas Mass in 2011 killed at least 37 people.

Last Easter Sunday, a bombing at a church compound in northern Kaduna during a service killed at least 36 people.

In other major attacks, gunmen killed at least 19 people in two attacks on Christian worshippers in the Nigerian city of Kano and in the northeastern town of Maiduguri on April 29, 2012.

In June, three gunmen sprayed bullets at the congregation of a church in Biu Town, in northeastern Borno State. In Jos, a Boko Haram suicide bomber drove a car to the entrance of the Christ Chosen Church and blew it up.

In the same month, a bomb attack in a church in Kaduna triggered a week of tit-for-tat violence that killed at least 90 people.

In October a suicide bomber drove a sport utility vehicle full of explosives into a Catholic church during morning mass, killing eight and wounding more than 100. The most recent attack on a church a few weeks ago was when suicide bombers struck the St. Andrew Military Protestant Church at the Jaji barracks in Kaduna State killing 11 people and wounding 30.