North Africa Theater
A nationwide strike has been declared in Tunisia after protests over the killing of opposition leader Mohamed Brahmi July 25. The nation's UGTT trade union federation called the stoppage to protest "terrorism, violence and murders" by the Islamist government of the Ennahda party. Police used tear gas to disperse protesters in several towns, after Brahmi was shot dead outside his home in Tunis. "This criminal gang has killed the free voice of Brahmi," his widow, Mbarka Brahmi, told Reuters. His sister Souhiba Brahm was even more forthright: "Ennahda killed my brother," she said. Ennahda has condemned the killing. Brahmi, a lawmaker and leader of the leftist Popular Movement, is the second opposition leader killed this year; the February assassination of Chokri Belaid also sparked a political crisis. The killing of Brahmi came on Republic Day, marking the 56th anniversary of Tunisia's independence. (Middle East Online, July 27; BBC News, July 26; Reuters, July 25)
The International Criminal Court (ICC) on July 18 rejected Libya's request to suspend the order to hand over Saif al-Islam Qaddafi, son of the late Moammar Qaddafi. It also ruled that its forum is more appropriate than the Libyan forum because of the accused's stated preference, genuine fear of bias, and the scope of crimes alleged by each prosecutor. The scope of the ICC's allegations is broader than that stated in the Libyan charges, allowing for a wider spectrum of evidence. The ICC ruled that the Libyan government failed to show how his appearance in the ICC would create an irreversible situation, as is required for the court to order such relief in a request to suspend appearance.
At a ceremony in Bamako July 1, UN troops formally took over the "peacekeeping" mission in Mali, with authority transferred from the African-led International Support Mission in Mali (AFISMA) to the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA). But most of the soldiers actually remained the same, with AFISMA troops merely donning the blue beret of UN peacekeeping forces. In April, the Security Council approved the 12,600-strong MINUSMA to take over from the African-led force, with authorization "to use all necessary means" to carry out humanitarian and security-related missions and protect civilians, UN staff and cultural artifacts. The new mission begins as French forces continue their phased withdrawal. But France, Mali's former colonial master, is to keep up to 1,000 troops in the country. (Al Jazeera, UN News Centre, July 1)
At least three soldiers were killed as Libyan Special Forces clashed with armed men in Benghazi June 15—a week after fighting killed more than 30 in the eastern port city. The Special Forces' Facebook page said an "outlaw" band attacked their headquarters. The attackers were apparently hundreds strong, in civilian clothes but some wearing veils over their faces. Two days earlier, a bomb exploded outside the building of Libya al-Hurra TV in the city, causing some damage but no casualties. Suspicion in the attacks has fallen on members of the Libyan Shields, a militia that serves as an auxiliary to the "official" armed forces. Spokesman for the army chief of staff Ali al-Sheikhi described the Libyas Shields as "a reserve force under the Libyan army," speaking to Libya's Lana news agency.
The pre-trial chamber of the International Criminal Court (ICC) on May 31 rejected a challenge by the Libyan government to the court's jurisdiction over Saif al-Islam Qaddafi, the son of Libya's deposed leader Muammar Qaddafi. The ICC ordered the Libyan government to turn over Saif al-Islam, who is currently being held in Zintan, Libya, where he is facing war crimes charges in a Libyan court. The ICC's decision dismisses a challenge filed by the Libyan government last year claiming the ICC did not have jurisdiction over the case. The court's decision found that the Libyan judicial system was not prepared to handle Saif al-Islam's trial, and thus jurisdiction falls to the ICC. The Libyan government may appeal the ICC ruling.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said May 28 during a stop in Niger that the attackers who carried out last week's double suicide bombings on a military camp and uranium mine likely came from southern Libya—indicating that jihadist forces driven from north Mali have taken refuge across borders in the lawless spaces of the Sahara. He also said they had inside help, saying: "The terrorist groups benefited from a certain level of complicity." Niger President Mahamadou Issoufou's also said the jihadists infiltrated from Libya.
Talks will resume soon between the Malian government and Tuareg rebels of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), according to the foreign ministry of Burkina Faso, which has been brokering the dialogue. Earlier this month, a Malian military spokesperson said the country was in the final stages of preparation for an assault on Kidal, the northern town that is held by the MNLA. The last negotiations were back in December before the French-led military offensive to remove the fundamentalist militias who had battled with the MNLA for control of Mali's north. The MNLA supports plans for national elections for an interim president on June 28, but says it will not allow army troops into Kidal for the vote. Said MNLA envoy Ibrahim Ag Mohamed Assaleh: "We suggest that security during the vote be guaranteed by UN troops... because no Azawad citizen can elect the future president of Mali under the protection of Mali's terrorist army." (AFP, May 24; Al Jazeera, May 20)