Africa Theater

Boko Haram seizes five Nigerian towns

Over the past five days, Boko Haram has seized five towns in Nigeria's northeast, killing hundreds and leaving thousands of residents fleeing for safety as it continues its quest to establish a "caliphate" in the country. The towns captured include Bara in Yobe state, Banki and Bamain Borno state, and Madagali and Gulakwere in Adamawa state. Boko Haram forces were driven from Bama, in Borno state, after intense aerial bombardment by Nigeria's air force Sept. 7. Tension is mounting in Maiduguri, the Borno state capital, amid fears that the insurgents are mounting an offensive on the city. Further territorial gains by Boko Haram could worsen a dire humanitarian situation. Thousands of refugees have sought sanctuary in Maiduguri, and the UN estimates that 9,000 fleeing violence have arrived in Cameroon in the past ten days, with another 2,000 crossing into Niger, which has already taken in 50,000 refugees since May 2013. (The Punch, ThisDayLive, Nigeria; Leadership, Nigeria, via AllAfrica, Sept. 7; The Economist, Sept. 6)

Somalia: Shabab leader dead in US drone strike?

US forces carried out air-strikes against Shabab leader Ahmed Abdi Godane, with casualties reported but uncertainty over the fate of the main target, Somali officials said Sept. 2. Godane was traveling in one of two vehicles hit in apparent drone strike, a member of the Islamist group said. The spokesman would not say whether Godane was among the six militants killed. The two vehicles were heading toward the coastal town of Barawe, Shabaab's main base, when they were hit. The Pentagon confirmed the US military carried out an "operation," and that it was "assessing the results." The US has a large drone base at Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti, and also flies surveillance drones over Somalia from a base in Ethi­o­pia. The Pentagon quietly deployed a small team of advisers to Somalia last October to coordinate operations with African troops fighting to wrest control of the country from Shabab.

Kenya anti-terror police group charged in abuses

Kenya's Anti-Terrorism Police Unit (ATPU) has carried out a series of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances in violation of international laws, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported Aug. 18. Based on interview research conducted between November 2013 and June 2014, terrorism suspects were badly mistreated, killed, beaten, abducted and detained without access to families or lawyers. HRW called on Kenya to thoroughly investigate the allegations and urged the US to suspend donor support to the ATPU. The ATPU has previously come under criticism by other human rights groups. Last year the Kenyan human rights group Muslims for Human Rights (MUHURI) and the Open Society Justice Initiative jointly issued a report, calling on the US and the UK to suspend financial support to the ATPU. The report followed the completion of a new ATPU headquarters in Nairobi in May, which was partially funded by international anti-terror agencies. The facility increased technological capabilities and physical space for the ATPU, whose mission is to coordinate and carry out anti-terrorism operations within Kenya in support of the global war on terror. The unit's primary focus of late is Kenya's second-largest city, Mombasa, as the port city has become a major recruitment target for the al-Qaeda-linked group al-Shabaab, based in Somalia.

Nigeria: Amnesty implicates military in war crimes

Amnesty International has released gruesome video footage, along with images and testimonies the group provide fresh evidence of war crimes, including extrajudicial executions, being carried out in northeastern Nigeria as the fight by the military against Boko Haram and other armed groups intensifies. The footage, obtained from numerous sources during a recent trip to Borno state, includes horrific images of detainees having their throats slit one-by-one and dumped in mass graves by men who appear to be members of the Nigerian military and the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF), a state-sponsored militia. Several of the armed captors are wearing uniforms emblazoned with the words “Borno State Operation Flush." Said Amnesty secretary general Salil Shetty: "What does it say when members of the military carry out such unspeakable acts and capture the images on film? These are not the images we expect from a government which sees itself as having a leadership role in Africa."

Boko Haram steps up Cameroon raids

Nigerian radical Islamist group Boko Haram's is increasingly troubling the remote Far North Region of Cameroon, which has seen several attacks in recent months, with foreigners also abducted for ransom. This month, heavily armed men suspected to be Boko Haram fighters attacked Bonderi village, five kilometers from the border with Nigeria, and stole a military vehicle, four motorbikes and weapons from the gendarmerie base there, government officials told IRIN news agency. Another group of suspected Boko Haram gunmen also raided a gendarmerie border post in Zina town on July 8, three days prior to the Bonderi attack, and stole guns and ammunition. In June, two teenage sons of a Muslim cleric were kidnapped in Limani border town. The attacks, the latest of which claimed the life of a police officer and wounded another on July 18, have occurred despite the deployment in June of 1,000 additional soldiers to the Far North.

Ethiopia charges journalists with terrorism

An Ethiopian court on July 18 charged nine journalists with terrorism and inciting violence under Ethiopia's anti-terrorism law (PDF). The journalists, including six bloggers, were arrested in April and have been prevented from accessing their families or legal counsel since their arrests. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), since the implementation of the anti-terrorism law in 2009, Ethiopian authorities have used it as a tool to limit journalism critical of the government. Human Rights Watch (HRW) has repeatedly called upon the Ethiopian government to repeal the law, alleging that the government stifles the establishment of new media publications.

Deadly Ramadan in Somalia

Militant group al-Shabab has lived up to its promise to step up attacks in Somalia, mainly against government installations and personnel, during the holy month of Ramadan, which began on June 29. Over 30 people have been killed in Mogadishu alone. On July 8, the presidential compound was attacked during the iftar evening meal. Assailants entered the gate using a car bomb, and then engaged in a two-hour gun battle with palace guards, killing 14 soldiers. On July 5, at least four people, including two children, were killed when a suicide car bomb was detonated outside of the parliament building. Just two days earlier, a long-time member of parliament, Mohamed Mohamud, was killed with his bodyguard when armed assailants opened fire on his car. In response, the Somali government fired the police commissioner and head of the intelligence agency. Since then however, attacks have continued daily. Local media reported that the Ministry of Defense was attacked July 14.

Kenya: Muslims displaced in wake of terror attack

Dozens of Muslim families in Mpeketoni, a coastal Kenyan town where more than 60 people have been killed in separate attacks this week, have fled following  threats and assaults from the Christian majority. "Mpeketoni is not safe for us," Ali Lali Uweso, the headmaster of primary school, told Anadolu Agency by phone.  "As we speak, we are travelling in a convoy of several vehicles from Mpeketoni with Swahili and other Muslim families heading to Mokowe Jetty to take a boat to the islands." The Swahili people are an ethnic group whose name is derived from the Arabic word meaning coastal. Local residents confirmed that a Swahili Muslim man in his 50s was beaten unconscious by youth armed with crude weapons who claimed to be avenging the victims of the recent attacks. At least nine were killed and a number of others wounded in the June 16 attacks in the usually quiet town near the Somali border. The previous evening, at least 53 were killed in armed attacks on a three hotels and a police station in the town. The attacks were reportedly claimed by the Somali rebel group al-Shabaab. (World Bulletin, Al Jazeera, June 18)

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