North Africa Theater
Malian security forces have killed civilians in the town of Niono in central Mali (Ségou region), Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported on Jan. 20. HRW said that Mali's army has been targeting ethnic groups associated with rebels in the north, particularly Tuaregs and Arabs. HRW called on Mali's government, as well as France and West African nations to ensure that civilians are protected from violence. During the ongoing fighting between the Malian government and Islamist rebels, HRW has accused both sides of committing human rights violations, and urged rebel groups earlier this week to release all child soldiers.
The son of Libya's deposed leader Moammar Qaddafi appeared in court in Zintan, Libya, on Jan. 17. Saif al-Islam Qaddafi is accused of transferring information related to Libya's national security to an International Criminal Court (ICC) delegation. He is also accused of insulting Libya's new flag and attempting to escape from prison. Saif al-Islam's trial was postponed until May because he was not represented by a lawyer at the hearing. One of Saif al-Islam's co-defendants in the case related to information on Libya's national security is his ICC-appointed lawyer Melinda Taylor.
Algerian military forces on Jan. 17 launched an assault on the Amenas gas complex in the interior Sahara, where Islamists were holding dozens of hostages. Nearly 50 were killed in the raid, including 35 hostages, according to the spokesman of the militant group—variously named as "Battalion of the Masked" or "Signatories for Blood"—in a call to the Mauritanian news agency ANI. An Algerian government official called the number "exaggerated." Veteran jihadist fighter Mokhtar Belmokhtar AKA "Laaouar" or "Lawar" (the One-Eyed) claimed responsibility for attacking the complex, jointly operated by BP, Norway's Statoil and Algerian parastatal Sonatrach. Belmokhtar was until recently a leader of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), but was pushed out of the group late last year in a factional split. He has been blamed for previous abductions and the killings of both Algerians and foreigners.
Amid sketchy and conflicting reports of how much territory the jihadists have gained in their southern thrust and to what extent last week's French air-strikes have halted it, BBC News tells us Jan. 16 that French ground forces are now engaged in the battle for the town of Diabaly, just 220 miles north of Mali's capital, Bamako. A convoy of 50 armored vehicles left Bamako overnight for Diabaly, seemingly a joint force of French and Malian troops. French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said: "Today, the ground forces are being deployed. Until now, we had made sure there were a few ground forces in Bamako to keep our people safe... Now French ground forces are heading up north."
France carried out air-strikes against Islamist rebels in Mali Jan. 11, helping government forces halt a drive southward by the militants who control the country's desert north. France also evidently has introduced ground forces, with President Francois Hollande saying French troops "have brought support this afternoon to Malian units to fight against terrorist elements." He added: "This operation will last as long as is necessary." Combined Malian and French forces turned back a rebel advance, retaking the town of Konna (Mopti region, see map) that had been seized by a mixed force of the militant groups Ansar Dine and MUJAO, apparently with fighters from al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Mali's government declared a nation-wide state of emergency as the counter-offensive was launched.
A Tunisian court on Jan. 7 unconditionally released the only suspect held in custody over the deadly attack on the US consulate in the Libyan city of Benghazi. Ali Harzi, was ordered freed for lack of evidence, but must remain in the greater Tunis area pending further investigations. Harzi had been detained in Turkey and deported to Tunisia, where he had been held for months. The FBI was first granted access to Harzi for questioning in December. Shortly after the FBI interviewed Harzi for three hours, the Tunisian wing of the militant group Ansar al-Sharia released pictures of the three investigating FBI agents online.
Two Egyptians were killed and two injured in an apparent attack on a Coptic church near the Libyan city of Misrata Dec. 30. "Unknown assailants targeted a church building in the town of Dafniya, in Misrata [province], causing the death of two Egyptian citizens and wounding two others," official news agency LANA reported. "The explosion happened after the mass ended and people were on their way out." There were an estimated 1.5 million Egyptians living and working in Libya before the 2011 revolution. About two-thirds left during the war but many returned in 2012.
Islamist militants occupying Timbuktu in northern Mali destroyed remaining mausoleums in the ancient city using pick-axes Dec. 23, a leader of the group said. "Not a single mausoleum will remain in Timbuktu, Allah doesn't like it," Abou Dardar, head of Ansar Dine, told the AFP. "We are in the process of smashing all the hidden mausoleums in the area." (Al Jazeera, Dec. 23) Three days earlier, the UN Security Council voted unanimously to approve an African-led intervention force to oust the Islamist forces from Mali's north. (The Real News, Dec. 20)