Al-Qaeda trying to regroup in Tunisia after Daesh setbacks: Sources

Last month, Tunisian special forces killed Bilel Kobi, a top aide to Abdelmalek Droukdel, better known as Abu Musab Abdul Wadud, an Al-Qaeda leader. (Reuters)
Updated 07 February 2018
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Al-Qaeda trying to regroup in Tunisia after Daesh setbacks: Sources

TUNIS/ALGIERS: The killing of a senior Algerian militant by special forces soon after he slipped into Tunisia has raised concern that Al-Qaeda is trying to regroup in the North African state as rival Daesh has suffered major setbacks, security sources say.
Last month, Tunisian special forces killed Bilel Kobi, a top aide to Abdelmalek Droukdel, better known as Abu Musab Abdul Wadud, the leader of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), in a mountainous region along the Tunisian-Algerian border.
Kobi was on an apparent mission to reunite splinter groups of Al-Qaeda fighters in Tunisia, putting the army on alert for more infiltrations, a senior Tunisian security source said.
AQIM was the dominant militant force in North Africa, staging several high-profile deadly attacks until 2013 when it fractured as many militants flocked to the more extremist Daesh as it seized territory in Iraq, Syria and Libya.
Daesh became a major recruiter for disaffected, often unemployed young men especially from Tunisia, where poverty has spread since the uprising that toppled Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali in 2011 and induced protracted turmoil.
But Daesh’s appeal has waned since it lost all its territorial strongholds in neighboring Libya as well as in Iraq and Syria to counter-offensives by security forces, with fighters returning home or looking for new causes to join.
That has prompted AQIM to try to lure new talent from among Daesh veterans, two Tunisian security sources told Reuters.
“Al-Qaeda wants to invest in a recent decline of Daesh to reorganize and re-emerge as it seeks to restructure especially in Algeria, Libya and Tunisia by naming new local leaders on the ground,” one of the security sources said.
Kobi was not the only senior militant sent to reorganize Al-Qaeda in Tunisia. Hamza Al-Nimr, an Algerian who joined Al-Qaeda in 2003, was dispatched to lead a cell in Tunisia but was killed with Kobi in the same operation, Tunisian security sources say.
Beefed up by Western countries, Tunisia’s security forces have managed to pre-empt any major attack since a Daesh militant shot dead 39 foreigners on a Mediterranean beach in June 2015, but authorities remain on alert.
In December, the UAE briefly banned Tunisian women from boarding flights to Dubai over a perceived terrorist threat.
Hundreds of Tunisians have joined militant groups abroad but it is unclear how many have returned as significant numbers of them were killed in Syria combat and elsewhere, officials say.
AQIM has remained active in North Africa’s largely desert and often scarcely governed Sahel region, such as in Mali where it focused its activities after Daesh emerged in force to the north in Libya and Tunisia.
AQIM’s Tunisian branch, called Okba Ibn Nafaa, is fractured into four groups based in the remote, northwestern Kasserine and Kef mountains region near Algeria.
Their command structure is dominated by Algerians while a rival group loosely associated with Daesh based in the same region is run by Tunisians, Tunisian security sources say.
Kobi, among others before, had been sent to bring the Al-Qaeda spinoff groupings back together, they said.
“Okba has dozens of fighters; each group is comprised of up to 20 terrorists,” one Tunisian source said.
Okba had targeted police and army forces, he said, unlike the Daesh focus on killing civilians, such as on the Sousse beach.
Tunisia is monitoring the border in close cooperation with Algeria, which prides itself in having prevented any attack since a veteran AQIM commander, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, claimed a strike on a desert natural gas plant in 2013.
There are indications of AQIM fighters trying to cross into Tunisia as Algeria’s army has cracked down on AQIM in the past two weeks, killing eight militants east of the capital Algiers and then the group's media chief a few days later.
“AQIM is in decline (in Algeria), it can’t restructure or redeploy here,” an Algerian security source said.
But a Tunisian security source said a regional AQIM commander remained in eastern Algeria intent on revamping the organization across North Africa, not just in Tunisia.


Iraq exhumes bodies thought to be Kurds killed by Saddam

Updated 23 July 2019
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Iraq exhumes bodies thought to be Kurds killed by Saddam

  • “More than 70 bodies including women and children, ranging from newborns to 10 years old” have so far been exhumed
  • “The evidence collected indicates they were summarily executed in 1988,” said the head of Baghdad’s Medico-Legal Directorate

BAGHDAD: Iraq on Tuesday began exhuming the remains of dozens of victims, including children, likely killed during ex-dictator Saddam Hussein’s campaign against the country’s Kurds, a forensics official told AFP.
The mass grave was uncovered in Tal Al-Sheikhiya, about 300 kilometers (200 miles) south of Baghdad, said Zaid Al-Youssef, the head of Baghdad’s Medico-Legal Directorate which is tasked with identifying the remains.
“More than 70 bodies including women and children, ranging from newborns to 10 years old” have so far been exhumed, Youssef said.
Those remains were recovered from the surface layer of the site, he said, but “there could be a second deeper layer” with additional bodies.
“The evidence collected indicates they were summarily executed in 1988,” said Youssef, which coincides with Saddam’s brutal “Anfal” campaign against Iraq’s Kurds.
The operation took place between 1987 and 1988 and saw nearly 180,000 Kurds killed and more than 3,000 villages destroyed.
“The female victims were blindfolded and killed by gunshots to the head, but also have traces on various parts of their bodies of bullets that were fired randomly,” Youssef said.
The grave lies in the southern province of Mutahanna, also home to the notorious Nigrat Salman prison camp.
Many Kurds and political opponents of the previous regime were held there, and survivors shared tales of humiliation, rape and detention of minors as part of Saddam’s 2006 trial.
Iraq has been hit by wave after wave of conflict in recent decades, culminating in the fight against the Daesh group which ended in late 2017.
Those years of conflict left grave sites all across the country where the remains of thousands of victims from Iraq’s diverse ethnic and religious communities have been uncovered.
IS alone left behind an estimated 200 mass graves that could hold up to 12,000 bodies, the United Nations has said.
Authorities are testing remains from the most recent conflict as well as wars dating back three decades in an effort to identify the fates of missing Iraqis.
According to Iraqi authorities, Saddam’s regime forcefully disappeared more than one million people in the 1980s and 1990s, and many of their families are still trying to find out what happened to them.