North Africa Theater
Uh-oh. We had just taken heart that the 9-11 anniversary in New York was low-key and uneventful. And now we just got news that hearkens back to the 2010 anniversary, with its depressing controversy over some wacky preacher's threat to do a mass Koran burning, sparking deadly violence in Afghanistan. Now BBC News reports that a US official was killed when the consulate was overrun by protesters in Benghazi—over some wacky film dissing the Prophet Mohammed produced by some stateside Islamophobic idiots. There were similar protests at the US embassy in Cairo, where the situation is especially depressing because a rumor (based on a slim kernel of truth) seems to have implicated the Coptic Christians, who were already in a precarious situation in Egypt. Background is provided the New York Times' The Lede blog, which also notes that Terry Jones makes cameo in the ugly affair...
We've been waiting for the other shoe to drop in Mali ever since April, when Tuareg rebels seized power in the north, only to be shortly overthrown themselves by an alliance of jihadist militias. Yeah, this is the middle of the Sahara, but how long is the "international community" going to allow an unrecognized extremist-controlled rogue state the size of France to persist? The jihadists continue to up the proverbial ante. Over the weekend, the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) advanced into Mopti region, south of rebel-held Timbuktu, seizing the town of Douentza. (See map.) Unbelievably, it appears that this border zone on the edge of the vast rebel territory has been abandoned by the government, and the town was defended only by a local militia, the Ganda Iso (Sons of the Land)—one of several that the region's residents have been organizing autonomously to defend against jihadist aggression or (much more ambitiously) to eventually take back the north. MUJAO also made good on their threat to put to death an Algerian vice consul they had abducted. Mali's government this week reportedly made a formal request for military intervention to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), but is apparently refusing to confirm this to its own people, making no mention of it in state media. (AP, Sept. 7; Middle East Online, Sept. 3; MEO, Sept. 2; AFP, Aug. 31)
During the administration of former US president George W. Bush, the US government tortured opponents of former Libyan leader Moammar Qaddafi and transferred them to Libya, Human Rights Watch (HRW) announced in a report (PDF) released Sept. 5. The report, entitled "Delivered Into Enemy Hands: US-Led Abuse and Rendition of Opponents to Gaddafi's Libya," details the ill-treatment and torture, including instances of waterboarding, of detainees in US custody. The information contained in the report comes from detainees who have since been liberated, as well as documents and files uncovered after the fall of the Qaddafi regime.
We reported back in February that Sufis held a parade in Tripoli to mark the birthday of the Prophet Mohammed—in defiance of threats from Salafists, who had just razed a Sufi school and revered tombs of Islamic saints in Benghazi. Now comes this extremely bad news from Reuters, Aug. 25:
Attackers bulldozed a mosque containing Sufi Muslim graves in the center of Tripoli in broad daylight on Saturday, in what appeared to be the boldest sectarian attack in Libya since the overthrow of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi...
British Petroleum (BP) announced Aug. 24 that it expects to move ahead next year with deep-sea drilling work off the coast of Libya—resuming its $2 billion exploration program halted by the revolution against Moammar Qaddafi's regime last year. The oil major, which in May lifted a freeze on its activities in the North African country, will shortly resume preliminary work on the project, with drilling itself set to start some time in 2013. BP is currently choosing contractors for underwater geological surveying, a tender invitation posted on the Libyan National Oil Company website indicates. Under the deal signed with the Qaddafi government in 2007, BP will explore in the Sirt basin, more than ten times the size of its deep-water blocks off Angola. Under the 2007 contract, BP acquired 31,000 square kilometers of three-dimensional seismic data both offshore and onshore, with explorations in the Ghadames basin of Libya's western desert. (MarketWatch, Aug. 24)
Three armed Islamists, including a senior member of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) thought to be close to its leader Abdelmalek Droukdel, were arrested in central Algeria's Ghardaia province on Aug. 15. Necib Tayeb AKA Abderrahmane Abou Ishak Essoufi, the head of AQIM's so-called "judicial committee," had been wanted since 1995. The three were apprehended in a four-wheel-drive vehicle loaded with weapons at a checkpoint at the entrance to Berriane while apparently en route to the Sahel. Authorities hailed the arrests as a "fatal blow" to AQIM, which is said to be badly divided by internal factionalism. (Magharebia, Aug. 23; AFP, Aug. 20)
At least two were killed when three car bombs exploded near interior ministry and security buildings in the Libya's capital Tripoli on Aug. 19—the first lethal attack of its kind since Moammar Qaddafi's fall last year. The first bomb blew up near the interior ministry's administrative offices in Tripoli but caused no casualties. On arriving at the site of the explosion, police found another car bomb that had not blown up. Minutes later, two car bombs exploded near the former headquarters of a women's police academy, which the Defense Ministry has been using for interrogations and detentions. That bomb killed two people and wounded two. The blasts took place early in the morning as worshippers prepared for morning prayers marking Eid al-Fitr, the celebration marking the end of Ramadan. Reports did not make clear if the dead were civilians or members of the security forces, but the downtown streets were crowded with worshippers. Authorities said they arrested 32 in the attacks, all suspected of being Qaddafi supporters. (World Bulletin, Turkey, NYT, Aug. 19)
A general strike was held Aug. 14 in Tunisia's Sidi Bouzid region to demand the release of detainees and resignation of the governor, the regional head of the National Guard, and the public prosecutor. The strike, called by the UGTT trade union federation, was widely observed, with all public and private businesses shut except the electric company. The detainees had been arrested in protests over the past weeks demanding development of the marginalized region, where water and power cuts are common. Sidi Bouzid is considered the birthplace of the Arab Spring; last year's Tunisian uprising was sparked when a street vendor in the city torched himself in December 2010 in protest over his precarious livelihood. (Tunis Afrique Presse via AllAfrica, AFP, Aug. 14)