North Africa Theater
French warplanes carried out air-strikes on the ISIS capital Raqqa, just two days after the "Islamic State" claimed the attacks in Paris that are now said to have killed 130 people. The raids, involving 10 planes launched from Jordan and United Arab Emirates, struck a "command center," a "recruitment center," a "munitions depot" and a "training camp," according to the French Defense Ministry. There is no report of casualties, so far. (France24, Military.com) Alas, even "progressive" news sources like The Guardian are referring to Raqqa as an "ISIS stronghold"—which (in a rhetorical device we have noted before) implicitly legitimizes attacks on the civil populace. In fact, the civil resistance that is active throughout Syria even has a presence in Raqqa—activists there have been heroically documenting ISIS crimes and even protesting jihadist rule. They even have a website, maintained by their friends abroad, Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently. The already precarious position of these courageous activists cannot have improved since Raqqa has come under bombardment by both the US and Bashar Assad's warplanes—and now those of François Hollande.
The UK Supreme Court on Nov. 9 began hearings in the case of Abdel Hakim Belhaj, who claims the British government assisted in his 2004 rendition by US forces. Belhaj and his wife were arrested in Bangkok in 2004 and returned to Muammar Qaddafi's Libya, where he spent six years in prison. Belhaj first filed his lawsuit in 2012. In 2013 the British High Court threw out the claim, stating that hearing the claim was barred by the Acts of State doctrine. However, in October 2014, the Court of Appeals found that the claim is not barred because "it falls within a limitation on grounds of public policy in cases of violations of international law and fundamental human rights." The court stated that while the Acts of State doctrine is valid, it does not stop a British court from examining whether British agencies, officials or ministers were separately culpable. The case will be heard by seven judges over four days, who will decide whether Belhaj can sue the British government, former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and the former head of the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), known as MI6, for alleged complicity with US intelligence over his treatment.
Libya's oil output dropped below 400,000 barrels per day after the divided country's internationally recognized government in the east sent troops of the Petroleum Facilities Guard to close the port of Zueitina on Nov. 5, charging that tankers seeking to load crude there had failed to register with the National Oil Corporation (NOC). Vessels registered with the rival NOC headquarters in Tripoli are "illegitimate" and won't be permitted to load at the port, Petroleum Guard spokesman Ali al-Hasy told Bloomberg by phone. The Tripoli-based NOC declared force majeure and said in a statement that the port was closed for all exports due to a "deteriorated security situation." Libya, with Africa's largest oil reserves, pumped about 1.6 million barrels per day of crude before the 2011 revolution. Libya is currently the smallest producer in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. (More at Hellenic Shipping News, Maritime Executive, Aramco FuelFix, Nov. 5)
Missiles and mortar rounds were fired into a crowd of demonstrators in central Benghazi's al-Keesh Square, killing six and injuring at least 35. The pro-secular protest was called to oppose proposals, now being heard in the UN-brokered peace dialogue, for a new unity government that would include leaders of the Islamist factions that now control Tripoli. (BBC News, Libya Herald, Oct. 24) One of the protesters, 32-year-old architect Salwa, told Middle East Eye: "We went out today to tell [head of the UN Support Mission in Libya, Bernadino] Leon that he does not have the right to propose that terrorists and leaders of militias should be part of a government for Libya, and we protested even though we knew there was a threat from ISIS, who claim that they are revolutionaries." She added: "But I did not expect their brutality to reach this level. They bombed areas where there were innocent people—women and children—who just wanted to try and have a say in the fate of their homeland."
The Tunisia Quartet civil activist group was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on Oct. 9 for its pivotal role in channeling the country's revolution in a secular and democratic direction. The Quartet was formed in the summer of 2013, composed of four civil society groups—the General Union of Tunisian Workers (UGTT); the Tunisian League of Human Rights; the Bar Association; and the Tunisian Confederation of Industry, Trade and Handicrafts. It led what is called the National Dialogue, bringing together the country's fiercely adversarial political parties to forge a new democratic process. The groups opened the dialogue process amid an alarming political crisis, marked by political assassinations and turmoil. As other Arab countries were descending into civil war, Tunisia came back form the brink, adopting a secular constitution, thanks to a "vibrant civil society with demands for respect for basic human rights," in the words of the Nobel Prize Committee. (HRW, Oct. 9)
Ahmad al-Mahdi al-Faqi AKA Abu Tourab, a former member of militant group Ansar Dine, was turned over to the International Criminal Court at The Hague by authorities in Niger Sept. 26, accused of war crimes allegedly committed in Timbuktu, Mali, including destruction of religious and historical monuments. He is charged in the destruction of nine mausoleums and a mosque in the historic city in 2012, when an alliance of jihadist militias including Ansar Dine was in control of northern Mali. The entire city of Timbuktu, known as the "City of 333 Saints," is a UNESCO-listed world heritage site. El-Boukhari Ben Essayouti, head of the Timbuktu Cultural Mission, said that al-Mahdi was but one militant who took part in the destruction, and called for his accomplices to be similarly brought to justice. (AFP, BBC News, AP, ICC press release, Sept. 26)
An ISIS suicide squad on Sept. 18 penetrated an air base on the outskirts of Tripoli that serves as the Libyan capital's only working airport in an attack on the Islamist militia that was defending the facility. The four ISIS attackers were killed in the clash, and at least three members of the Special Deterrence Force, which is loyal to the Islamist-led Tripoli-based government. The attack comes as the UN special envoy to Libya, the Spanish diplomat Bernardino Leon, is seeking to broker out a power-sharing deal between the Tripoli government and Libya's recognized government, now exiled in Tobruk. Despite the talks, fighting continues between the rival governments, especially in the contested city of Benghazi. The UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) on Sept. 20 strongly condemned new air-strikes by Tobruk-loyal forces in Benghazi, and called for an immediate ceasefire. "The timing of airstrikes clearly aims at undermining the ongoing efforts to end the conflict," the Mission said of the pervious day's escalation. The statement noted that more than 100,000 have been displaced by the conflict that has raged in the city for over a year now, with residential neighborhoods reduced to rubble. (UN News Centre, Sept. 20; VOA, Sept. 19)
The latest edition of the English-language ISIS magazine Dabiq, released online Sept. 9, contains the predictable parade of perversions. Two men, Norwegian and Chinese nationals, are offered for sale as slaves. The destruction of ancient temples at the Palmyra archaeological site is trumpeted. Child soldiers are glorified as "lion cubs" of the "caliphate." The 9-11 attacks are hailed as the "blessed operations." But it also features an interview with Abul Mughirah al-Qahtani, identified as the "delegated leader" of the Islamic State's Libyan "province," in which he harshly criticizes several rival jihadist outfits, including Ansar al-Sharia, the Abu Salim Martyrs Brigade (ASMB), the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), and the Libyan Dawn coalition.