Sophie Petronin: Son Hopeful Of Mother’s Release From Jihadist Captivity

Sebastien Chadaud
Sebastien Chadaud Petronin, the son of French hostage Sophie Petronin arrives in Bamako after reports of her imminent release, alongside a veteran Malian politician, on October 6, 2020 in Mali. (Photo by MICHELE CATTANI / AFP)

 

The son of a French aid worker taken hostage in Mali said on Wednesday he was still awaiting news about his mother after speculation intensified following the release of detained jihadists.

Hopes that 75-year-old Sophie Petronin and abducted Malian opposition leader Soumaila Cisse may soon be released surged at the weekend when security sources said Mali’s new government had freed scores of jihadists.

But Petronin’s son, Sebastien Chadaud, who flew to the Malian capital Bamako on Tuesday, said he had no information about this mother.

“Nothing yet,” he said in a brief message to AFP, adding that he did not know whether any release was underway or not.

Petronin was abducted by gunmen on December 24, 2016, in the northern city of Gao, where she worked for a children’s charity. She is the last French national held hostage in the world.

Cisse, a 70-year-old former opposition leader and three-time presidential candidate, was kidnapped on March 25 while campaigning in his home region of Niafounke ahead of legislative elections.

Anger at his abduction was a factor in a groundswell of protests against President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, who was finally toppled by young army officers on August 18.

The junta has installed an interim president, Bah Ndaw, but made concessions to Mali’s neighbours demanding safeguards for a return to civilian rule.

Ndaw’s government is led by a civilian, with military men in key ministerial positions. Under a “charter” endorsed by the junta, the transition period will last for a maximum of 18 months.

Petronin and Cisse are believed to be held by an armed Islamist group linked to Al-Qaeda.

One of the world’s poorest and most unstable countries Mali is in the grip of an eight-year-old jihadist insurgency that began in the north, spread to the ethnically volatile centre and advanced into Burkina Faso and Niger.

Thousands of civilians and soldiers have been killed and hundreds of thousands of people have fled their homes.

The French and Malian governments have refused to comment on any exchange.

-AFP

Mali Frees Over 100 Jailed Jihadists

 

Mali has freed more than 100 suspected or convicted jihadists as part of negotiations for the release of a prominent Malian politician and a kidnapped French charity worker, sources close to the talks said Monday.

“As part of the negotiations to obtain the release of Soumaila Cisse and Sophie Petronin, more than one hundred jihadist prisoners were released this weekend,” one of those in charge of the negotiations, who asked not to be named, told AFP.

An official at the security services confirmed the information.

The prisoners were released in the central region of Niono and in Tessalit in the north after arriving by plane, the official said.

A lawmaker in Tessalit, who also requested anonymity, confirmed to AFP that “large numbers of jihadist prisoners” arrived there on Sunday.

Sophie Petronin, a French charity worker, was abducted by gunmen on December 24, 2016, in the northern city of Gao.

The last video in which she appeared was received in June 2018. She appeared tired and emaciated and appealed to French President Emmanuel Macron. In another video, in November 2018, in which she did not appear, her kidnappers said her health had deteriorated.

Soumaila Cisse is a former opposition leader and three-time presidential candidate. He was seized on March 25 while campaigning in his home region of Niafounke ahead of legislative elections.

Mali, supported by France and UN peacekeepers, is struggling with an eight-year-old Islamist insurgency that has claimed thousands of lives.

A military junta overthrew president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita in August, before taking over leadership of the West African nation

-AFP

Cameroon Soldiers Jailed 10 Years For Murder Of Four Civilians

Map of Cameroon

 

Four Cameroonian soldiers were sentenced on Monday to 10 years in prison for the execution-style killings of two women and their children in a region where the army is fighting jihadists.

A fifth soldier received a two-year sentence.

A video was broadcast on social media in July 2018 showing soldiers shooting two kneeling, blindfolded women as well as a baby on one of their backs and a girl.

The government initially denied the army’s involvement, dismissing the video as “fake news”.

But after Amnesty International provided credible evidence, the authorities announced that the seven soldiers seen in the video had been arrested and would be prosecuted.

Two were later acquitted.

The military court in the capital Yaounde handed down the murder verdict and sentences after the trial was adjourned several times.

The seven soldiers had pleaded not guilty nearly a year ago.

The killings took place in Zeleved, in Cameroon’s Far North region where troops have been deployed to fight Boko Haram jihadists carrying out cross-border attacks from Nigeria.

International human rights organisations regularly denounce abuses and crimes committed against civilians by security forces in Cameroon.

Three soldiers were charged with murder in June over a massacre earlier this year in western Cameroon, where security forces are fighting anglophone separatists.

AFP

Aid Group Says Five Nigerian Workers Abducted By ISWAP

 

Five humanitarian workers have been abducted by Islamist insurgents in the restive northeastern region, aid group Action Against Hunger said.

The Paris-based organisation said in a statement Tuesday that one of its employees was among those kidnapped last month.

“Action Against Hunger condemns, in the strongest possible terms, the abduction of our employee, Ishaiku Yakubu, and we urgently call for his release,” it said.

It said Yakubu was abducted in June by a non-state armed group along with four other humanitarian workers from different organisations.

The five, all Nigerians, have appeared in a video that surfaced this week on the Telegram messaging app.

In the footage — apparently shot on June 21 — they said they had been kidnapped by fighters aligned to the Islamic State group at different times last month and appealed to be released.

Aid workers have been repeatedly targeted by jihadists waging a decade-long insurgency in northeastern Nigeria.

Last year fighters from the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) faction abducted a group of six humanitarian workers — including a female ACF employee — in the region.

Five of the hostages were later executed and the ACF worker remains in captivity.

ISWAP splintered from the jihadist group Boko Haram in 2016 and swore allegiance to then IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

The 10-year conflict in northeastern Nigeria has killed 36,000 people and displaced about two million from their homes in northeast Nigeria.

Aid groups provide a vital lifeline for some 7.9 million people who the United Nations says are in need of urgent assistance in the region.

Over 30 Killed In Eastern Burkina Faso Attack

PHOTO USED TO DEPICT THE STORY File photo of soldiers from the French Army holds detectors while searching for the presence of IED (Improvised Explosive Devices) during the Burkhane Operation in northern Burkina Faso. PHOTO: MICHELE CATTANI / AFP

 

Gunmen killed around 30 people at a livestock market in the eastern Burkina Faso town of Kompienbiga, local residents said Sunday, in an attack blamed by a security source on jihadists.

The assailants “burst into the market riding motorbikes and started shooting, especially at people who were trying to flee”, one resident said, estimating the death toll at around 30 from the attack on Saturday.

A second resident said: “It’s hard to say how many people were killed. There were bodies in the market, and others in the bush.”

But he added: “More than 30 bodies were collected” after the attack. He said his brother was at the market at the time and he had had “no news” from him since.

A local official put the death toll at “several dozen” including vendors and residents,  while a security source said “armed terrorists” carried out the attack, while declining to estimate how many were killed.

The attack came a day after a convoy of mainly shopkeepers escorted by a local self-defence unit came under fire in the north of the West African country, leaving 15 dead.

The bloodshed in Loroum province was also blamed on jihadists.

The east and north of the former French colony are the hardest hit by attacks by jihadists, who have killed more than 900 people and caused some 860,000 people to flee their homes in the past five years.

Burkina Faso’s armed forces are leading counter-terror operations with increasing frequency.

The impoverished Sahel country is part of a regional effort to battle an Islamist insurgency along with Mali, Niger, Mauritania and Chad.

Their militaries, under-equipped and poorly trained, are struggling despite help from France, which has 5,000 troops in the region.

Unrest in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger killed around 4,000 people last year, according to UN figures.

AFP

Burkina Faso Rocked By New Jihadist Massacre

A girl stands next to tents in a camp for internally displaced people in Barsalogho, on January 27, 2020. Barsalogho is a small town in northern Burkina Faso that hosts 10,000 displaced persons and refugees fleeing the resulting jihadist and inter-community violence.
Burkina Faso, which borders Mali and Niger, is facing jihadist attacks, which have killed more than 750 people since 2015. Under-equipped and poorly trained law enforcement agencies in Burkina Faso are unable to stop the spiral of violence. According to the United Nations, jihadist attacks in Mali, Niger, and Burkina have resulted in 4,000 deaths in 2019.
OLYMPIA DE MAISMONT / AFP

 

At least 10 men have been killed in a jihadist massacre at a village in Burkina Faso, which is in the grip of a years-long Islamist insurgency, security and local sources told AFP on Tuesday.

“We are talking of between 10 and 30 dead” in the assault, which targeted the village of Silgadji in northern Soum province, said a security official.

The attack was launched on Saturday and jihadists were still in the area on Monday, a resident in nearby Bourzanga town told AFP by phone, citing accounts from those who had fled.

“The terrorists surrounded the people at the village market, before separating them into two groups. The men were executed and the women were ordered to leave the village,” the source said.

The security source said: “Security teams are trying to get to the site but access to the village has probably been booby-trapped with homemade mines, and they are having to proceed carefully.”

 

– Hundreds killed –

Jihadist groups have killed almost 800 people in Burkina Faso and displaced 600,000 more since the start of 2015 when extremist violence began to spread from neighbouring Mali.

The attack comes on the heels of a massacre of 36 people at two villages in northern Sanmatenga province on January 20, prompting President Roch Marc Christian Kabore to declare two days of national mourning.

Located in the heart of the vast Sahel region on the southern fringe of the Sahara, Burkina Faso is one of the most impoverished countries in the world.

Its army is ill-equipped and poorly trained to deal with the threat although in recent months commanders claim to have killed roughly 100 jihadists.

The assaults typically entail fast-moving jihadists who arrive on motorbikes, attacking the market place.

There are 4,500 French troops deployed in the region, which are now backed by armed drones, as well as a 13,000-strong UN peacekeeping force in Mali.

They support the forces of the “G5 Sahel” anti-terror group — Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger.

The day after the attacks in Sanmatenga, the Burkina parliament adopted unanimously a law allowing for the recruitment of local volunteers in the fight against jihadists.

Volunteers aged over 18 will be given 14 days of military training, after which they will be given small arms and other communication equipment.

The recruits would be expected to conduct surveillance and provide information and protection for their communities in the event of an attack while waiting for security forces to deploy, according to Defence Minister Cheriff Sy.

According to UN figures, jihadist attacks in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger last year claimed around 4,000 lives.

Hundreds of thousands have fled their homes, sparking a humanitarian crisis.

AFP

 

39 Killed As Govt Forces, Jihadists Clash In Syria

 

 

 

A Syrian walks on the rubble of a building following a regime air strike on Ariha town in Syria’s last major opposition bastion of Idlib on January 15, 2020. Regime air strikes on Syria’s last major opposition bastion killed at least nine civilians Wednesday, striking bustling areas of Idlib city despite a fresh Russian-sponsored truce, a war monitor said.
Omar HAJ KADOUR / AFP

 

Intense fighting between pro-government forces and jihadist-led fighters in Syria’s Idlib province killed at least 39 fighters overnight, a war monitor said Thursday.

The violence, which saw air strikes, shelling and ground combat, further buried a ceasefire announced by Russia on Sunday in Idlib, the last major opposition bastion in the country.

Government and allied forces took two villages in their advance towards the key town of Maaret al-Numan, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

According to the Britain-based war monitor, the fighting flared late on Wednesday in areas south of Maaret al-Numan, the key target of the Syrian government’s latest military offensive.

At least 22 anti-government fighters were killed, most of them members of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, a group that includes fighters from the former Al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria.

Seventeen government troops and allied militia were also killed in the fighting, said Rami Abdel Rahman, the head of the Observatory.

He added that government forces were now just seven kilometres (less than five miles) from Maaret al-Numan, a town that was one of the bastions of the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad’s rule.

Nearly nine years into the conflict protests against the government are still held in some of the province’s towns.

In the city of Idlib itself, 18 civilians were killed in air strikes on Wednesday, shattering the truce brokered by Moscow and rebel backer Ankara.

The fighting has prompted hundreds of thousands of civilians to flee their homes in recent weeks, exposing them to a harsh winter.

AFP

Somali Jihadists Kill Three Americans In Attack On Kenyan Military Base

 

Attackers breached heavy security at Camp Simba at dawn but were pushed back and four jihadists killed, said army spokesman Colonel Paul Njuguna.

The American military, however, said three US citizens died in the attack including a service member and two civilian defence contractors.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of our teammates who lost their lives today,” General Stephen Townsend, the head of US Africa Command (Africom), said in a statement.

Two other US Department of Defence personnel were wounded, the statement added, without giving further details.

Al-Shabaab has launched regular cross-border raids since Kenya sent troops into Somalia in 2011 as part of an African Union force protecting the internationally-backed government – which the jihadists have been trying to overthrow for more than a decade.

The Lamu region, which includes popular tourist beach destination Lamu Island, lies close to the Somali frontier and has suffered frequent attacks, often carried out with roadside bombs.

Njuguna said “an attempt was made to breach security at Manda Air Strip” at 5:30 am but it was repulsed.

“Four terrorists’ bodies have so far been found. The airstrip is safe,” he said, adding that a fire had broken out but had since been dealt with.

Kenya’s Inspector General of Police Hilary Mutyambai said officers were “on high alert” after the attack.

Al-Shabaab ‘Lying’

An internal police report seen by AFP said two Cessna aircraft, two American helicopters and “multiple American vehicles” were destroyed at the airstrip.

Local government official Irungu Macharia said five people had been arrested near the camp and were being interrogated.

Shabaab claimed to have killed 17 Americans and nine Kenyan soldiers after the attack.

The nearby civilian airport at Manda Bay, which brings tourists visiting Lamu Island — a UNESCO World Heritage Site — was closed for several hours after the incident, according to the civil aviation authority.

Al-Shabaab said in a statement it had “successfully stormed the heavily fortified military base and have now taken effective control of part of the base”.

AFRICOM accused Al-Shabaab of lying in order to create false headlines.

Shabaab countered with a second statement, saying it had been a 10-hour firefight and mocking the US “inability to fend off an attack by just a handful of steadfast Muslim men”.

The group referred to an uptick in US military airstrikes under President Donald Trump, accusing the US of “strafing villages from above and indiscriminately bombarding innocent women and children.”

AFRICOM said in April it had killed more than 800 people in 110 strikes in Somalia since April 2017.

US Military Network

The Somali jihadists have staged several large-scale attacks inside Kenya in retaliation for Nairobi sending troops into Somalia as well as to target foreign interests.

The group has been fighting to overthrow an internationally-backed government in Mogadishu since 2006, staging regular attacks on government buildings, hotels, security checkpoints and military bases in the country

Despite years of costly efforts to fight Al-Shabaab, the group on December 28 managed to detonate a vehicle packed with explosives in Mogadishu, killing 81 people.

The spate of attacks highlights the group’s resilience and capacity to inflict mass casualties at home and in the region, despite losing control of major urban areas in Somalia.

In a November report, a UN panel of experts on Somalia noted an “unprecedented number” of homemade bombs and other attacks across the Kenya-Somalia border in June and July last year.

On Thursday, at least three people were killed when suspected Al-Shabaab gunmen ambushed a bus travelling in the area.

According to the Institute for Security Studies, the United States has 34 known military bases in Africa, from where it conducts “drone operations, training, military exercises, direct action and humanitarian activities”.

Jihadists Execute Four Hostages In Nigeria – NGO

 

French aid group, Action Against Hunger says Jihadists have executed four Nigerian hostages who had been held since July.

According to the group, the four were among six hostages held by the jihadists. It added that one of its staff and two drivers were among those killed.

“The armed group responsible for the kidnapping of humanitarian workers on July 18, have murdered four hostages,” Action Against Hunger said in a statement that did not identify the victims.

Another of the hostages was killed in September.

The French aid group said it is “extremely concerned and calls for the immediate release of its staff member, Grace, who remains in captivity.”

The six, an Action Against Hunger employee, two drivers and three health ministry personnel were kidnapped while delivering humanitarian aid to vulnerable people in Borno State.

Their driver was killed in the kidnap ambush carried out by militants believed to be members of the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) group.

Jihadists aligned with the Islamic State group then released a video purporting to show the one female aid worker and five male colleagues who had been kidnapped in an attack in northeast Nigeria.

ISWAP is a splinter group of Boko Haram that swore allegiance in 2016 to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

It has repeatedly attacked military bases and previously targeted aid workers in northeast Nigeria.

“Action Against Hunger condemns these latest killings in the strongest terms and deeply regrets that its calls for the release of the hostages have not been acted upon,” the group said in its statement.

On Thursday ISWAP fighters militants killed 14 anti-jihadist militia and a police officer in northeast Nigeria, militia leaders told AFP Friday.

The militia was comprised of local hunters across the northeast along with the state-funded Civilian Joint Task Force, an armed vigilante group.

The decade-long Islamist insurgency has killed 35,000 people and displaced around two million from their homes in northeast Nigeria.

The violence has now spread to neighbouring Niger, Chad and Cameroon, prompting a regional military coalition to fight the insurgents.

Action Against Hunger said it is currently providing food assistance every month to approximately 300,000 people in northeast Nigeria, as well helping thousands more with life-saving health and nutrition services.

Five Killed In Jihadist Attack On Somalia Army Base

Somali government soldiers on a Military vehicle are seen outside the SYL hotel in Mogadishu on December 11, 2019. An attack by members of the radical Islamic group Al Shabab against a hotel in downtown Mogadishu killed five people on December 10, 2019, including three civilians and two members of the security forces. PHOTO: Abdirazak Hussein FARAH / AFP

 

Four civilians and a soldier were killed when heavily-armed Somali jihadists attacked an army base north of the capital, military sources and witnesses said Thursday.

Witnesses said dozens of al-Shabaab members, arriving aboard four pickup trucks, took part in the attack late Wednesday on Hilweyne base 25 kilometres (15 miles) north of Mogadishu, while a soldier said there had been hundreds of assailants.

The jihadists, whose organisation is affiliated to Al-Qaeda, took over the camp for a while before pulling out.

“After (a) tactical retreat by the armed forces, the military is back to the camp now and the situation is under control,” said Mohamed Salad, a Somali military commander in the nearby town of Balcad.

“We have lost one soldier in the fighting, but the terrorists also killed four other civilians including two women who were running small businesses near the camp.”

Hussein Luqman, a witness, said: “There was heavy exchange of gunfire which continued for more than 30 minutes.

“The Shabab fighters… stormed the base after attacking from several directions using technicals,” Luqman said, referring to pickup trucks.

“Two women who used to sell food and other items to the soldiers in the camp were among the dead.”

Several other witnesses told AFP that they saw fire at the base after the attackers set some of the soldiers’ belongings and two trucks ablaze.

The Shabaab claimed the attack, saying they had killed four soldiers before overrunning the base.

The group was driven out of Mogadishu by government forces backed by 20,000 African Union peacekeepers in 2011.

But they still control large areas of the countryside, using it as a springboard for carrying attacks on government and civilian targets.

On December 10, three civilians and two members of the security forces were killed in a Shabaab attack on a Mogadishu hotel. All five assailants died, according to the police.

AFP

Ten Killed In Mozambique Jihadist Attack – Witnesses

 

Ten people were killed in an ambush attributed to jihadists in Mozambique’s far north, witnesses said Friday, the latest attack in a region where suspected Islamist extremists have waged a campaign of terror for two years.

Gunmen ambushed a truck near the village of Mbau in the northernmost Cabo Delgado province on Thursday, a witness told AFP.

“The vehicle was bogged down in a sandy road and suddenly unidentified people started shooting at us,” said a young businessman on condition of anonymity.

He said that 10 people had been killed, a death toll confirmed by a villager.

“The situation is deteriorating. People are leaving their villages” for the port city of Mocimboa, the villager told AFP.

He said the attacks had increased since the West African country’s contentious general election on October 15.

After torching the truck, the attackers looted nearby homes and stole food, according to both sources.

Since 2017 Cabo Delgado has suffered a wave of deadly attacks that has killed 300 civilians and forced tens of thousands to flee their homes.

The violence has been blamed on a shadowy jihadist organisation apparently intent on imposing Islamic Sharia law.

Little is known about the attackers, who are usually referred to Al-Shabaab, despite having no known link to the Somali jihadist group of the same name.

The government has deployed significant reinforcements to the province after the attacks delayed development of vast gas reserves discovered in 2010.

25 Soldiers Killed, 60 Missing In Mali Jihadist Attacks

 

Malian troops backed by foreign allies on Wednesday launched a hunt for scores of comrades listed as missing after one of the deadliest attacks in a seven-year-old jihadist insurgency.

At least 25 troops were killed after militants aboard heavily-armed vehicles raided two military camps at Boulkessy and Mondoro near the border with Burkina Faso, according to a provisional toll.

Fifteen jihadists, according to government figures, were killed in the raids, which began early Monday and were quelled more than a day later.

But around 60 soldiers are listed as missing — 78, according to a security source — with no details as to whether they have been killed or captured.

“Operations to secure the area are under way with Mali’s partners,” a Malian military source said.

“Our objective is to consolidate our presence in Boulkessy and to focus on soldiers of whom we are currently without news.”

Hundreds of angry youths and wives of soldiers demonstrated outside a military camp in the capital Bamako late Wednesday.

Some demonstrators burned tyres to block off the avenue.

“We came here because the government is not telling the truth about the number of dead,” a woman demonstrator told AFP.

“It’s our husbands, the red berets, who are at Boulkessy.”

“My father is a soldier, he’s at Boulkessy, and I haven’t any news of him,” said 15-year-old Ali Oumar Diakite. “They’re lying to us. The army is under-equipped.”

Blow

The losses are a crushing blow to Mali’s armed forces, which are flailing in the face of a jihadist revolt that has spread from the arid north to its centre, an ethnically mixed and volatile region.

The operation is also a humiliation for the so-called G5 Sahel force — a much-trumpeted initiative under which five countries decided to create a joint 5,000-man anti-terror force — and for France, which is committed to shoring up the fragile region.

The losses symbolise “the escalating activities of violent extremist groups (in the Sahel) with more and more ambitious targets,” said Baba Dakono of the Institute for Security Studies (ISS), a think tank based in Senegal.

Only 13 soldiers emerged unscathed from the attacks, which were eventually subdued with the help of Malian special forces and foreign allies, including French warplanes.

The jihadists also made off with a large quantity of arms, ammunition and equipment — local media say about 20 vehicles were captured, including some mounted with machine-guns.

According to an army report seen by AFP, two army helicopters and about a dozen vehicles were burned in the attack on Boulkessy.

The camp there — which housed a Malian battalion that was part of the G5 Sahel — was destroyed.

The G5 Sahel secretariat said the assailants were members of Ansarul Islam, a jihadist group accused of multiple attacks in northern Burkina Faso.

Other sources were unable to confirm this.

Fragile Centre

Jihadists lost control of northern Mali after French military intervention, but regrouped to carry out hit-and-run raids and roadmine attacks — classic tactics by a mobile guerrilla force.

They have also moved on to the country’s central region, where they have inflamed long-standing resentments between ethnic groups, analysts say.

On March 17, the Malian army lost nearly 30 men in an attack on a camp in Dioura, also in the troubled central region.

That assault came on the heels of a massacre of 160 Fulani (also called Peul) villagers — a bloodbath that led to a military reshuffle and the government’s resignation.

UN chief Antonio Guterres has been pounding the drum for help for Sahel states, among the poorest in the world, in their struggle against the mobile, well-armed and ruthless jihadists.

On September 14, the West African regional group ECOWAS announced a billion-dollar plan to help fund the military operations of the nations involved. Full details will be presented at a summit in December.