Investigators probe deadly twin attacks in Burkina Faso

A cyclist watches military personnel outside the headquarters of the country's defence forces in Ouagadougou on Mar. 3, 2018 a day after a dozen of people were killed in twin attacks on the French embassy and the country's military. (AFP)
Updated 03 March 2018
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Investigators probe deadly twin attacks in Burkina Faso

OUAGADOUGOU: Authorities in Burkina Faso were on Saturday hunting for clues about the masterminds behind Friday’s deadly twin attacks on the French embassy and the country’s military HQ.
The coordinated attacks in Ouagadougou, which coincided with a meeting of regional anti-extremist forces, underlined the struggle the fragile West African nation faces in containing a bloody and growing terrorist insurgency.
Eight armed forces personnel were killed, the government said, while a French security source said 12 more were seriously injured. Earlier security sources had reported a higher toll.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility, and while a terrorist plot is the most likely, the government was not ruling out the involvement of plotters behind a failed coup in 2015.
“This is a terrorist attack, linked to a current or another terrorist movement in the Sahel... or to others who want to destabilize or block our democratic progress,” said communication minister Remis Fulgance Dandjinou on Saturday morning.
Two people were arrested near the headquarters, a security source told AFP.
The government said the attack on the military HQ was a suicide car bombing and that the G5 Sahel regional anti-terrorism force may have been the target.
“The vehicle was packed with explosives” and caused “huge damage,” Security Minister Clement Sawadogo said.
Prime minister Paul Kaba Thieba described “truly apocalyptic scenes” in the aftermath of the attack.
He said the terrorists had targeted both France and Burkina Faso in an attempt to divide the two countries.
“Obviously that will not happen.”
Officials from Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger had gathered for a G5 Sahel meeting, an anti-terrorist group designed to combat extremists on the southern rim of the Sahara.
The location of the meeting was changed at the last moment, Sawadogo said, adding the room they had been due to use at the military HQ was blown up.
“Perhaps it was the target. We do not know at the moment. In any case the room was literally destroyed by the explosion,” the minister added
The violence began mid-morning when heavy gunfire broke out in the center of the Burkinabe capital.
Witnesses said five men armed with Kalashnikov assault rifles got out of a car and opened fire on passersby before heading toward the French embassy.
They were “dressed in civilian clothes” with their faces uncovered, witnesses said.
At the same time, the bomb went off near the headquarters of the Burkinabe armed forces and the French cultural center, about a kilometer (half a mile) from the site of the first attack.
A gunman who attacked the military HQ was wearing the uniform of the national army, according to a security source.
Four attackers were shot outside the French embassy and another four at the military HQ, another security source told AFP.
“After soft targets, such as hotels and restaurants, this attack aimed at hard targets, strong symbols,” Paul Koalaga, a security consultant in Burkina Faso said, adding there appeared to be “a problem at the intelligence level.”
The G5 Sahel force aims to train 5,000 troops and to be fully operational by the end of the month.
It has already carried out operations against terrorist fighters with help from the French army.
Mahamadou Issoufou, Niger’s president and the current chair of the group, said Friday’s attacks “will only strengthen the resolve of the G5-Sahel and its allies in the fight against terrorism.”
French President Emmanuel Macron offered his condolences, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is on a visit to neighboring Mali, “strongly condemned” the attack while UN chief Antonio Guterres called for an “urgent and concerted effort” to improve stability in the Sahel.
The insurgency in the region has caused thousands of deaths, prompted tens of thousands to flee their homes and dealt crippling blows to economies that are already among the poorest in the world.
Burkina Faso has been the target of extremist attacks since 2015, and this is the third time in two years that Ouagadougou is the target of terrorist attacks targeting places frequented by Westerners.
On Aug. 13 last year, two assailants opened fire on a restaurant on the capital’s main avenue, killing 19 people and wounding 21. No one has so far claimed responsibility for it.
On Jan. 15, 2016, 30 people — including six Canadians and five Europeans — were killed in an extremist attack on a hotel and restaurant in the city center.
That attack was claimed by the Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Murabitoun group, which was led by the one-eyed Algerian terrorist Mokhtar Belmokhtar.
A group called Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) also said some of its militants were involved.


Thailand says US man’s seasteading home violates sovereignty

Updated 22 min 43 sec ago
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Thailand says US man’s seasteading home violates sovereignty

BANGKOK: Thai authorities have raided a floating home in the Andaman Sea belonging to an American man and his Thai partner who sought to be pioneers in the “seasteading” movement, which promotes living in international waters to be free of any nation’s laws.
Thailand’s navy said Chad Elwartowski and Supranee Thepdet endangered national sovereignty, an offense punishable by life imprisonment or death.
It filed a complaint against them with police on the southern resort island of Phuket. Thai authorities said they have revoked Elwartowski’s visa.
Elwartowski said in an email Thursday that he believes he and Supranee — also known as Nadia Summergirl — did nothing wrong.
“This is ridiculous,” he said in an earlier statement posted online. “We lived on a floating house boat for a few weeks and now Thailand wants us killed.”
The couple, who have gone into hiding, had been living part-time on a small structure they said was anchored outside Thailand’s territorial waters, just over 12 nautical miles from shore. They were not there when the navy carried out their raid on Saturday.
The Thai deputy naval commander responsible for the area said the project was a challenge to the country’s authorities.
“This affects our national security and cannot be allowed,” Rear Adm. Wintharat Kotchaseni told Thai media on Tuesday. He said the floating house also posed a safety threat to navigation if it broke loose because the area is considered a shipping lane.
Seasteading has had a revival in recent years as libertarian ideas of living free from state interference — such as by using crypto-currency including Bitcoin — have become more popular, including among influential Silicon Valley figures such as entrepreneur Peter Thiel. Elwartowski, an IT specialist, has been involved in Bitcoin since 2010.
Several larger-scale projects are under development, but some in the seasteading community have credited the Andaman Sea house with being the first modern implementation of seasteading.
“The first thing to do is whatever I can to help Chad & Nadia, because living on a weird self-built structure and dreaming of future sovereignty should be considered harmless eccentricities, not major crimes,” Patri Friedman, a former Google engineer who heads The Seasteading Institute, said on his Facebook page.
The floating two-story octagonal house at the center of the controversy had been profiled and promoted online by a group called Ocean Builders, which touted it as a pilot project and sought to sell additional units.
The group describes itself as “a team of engineering focused entrepreneurs who have a passion for seasteading and are willing to put the hard work and effort forward to see that it happens.”
In online statements, both Elwartowski and Ocean Builders said the couple merely promoted and lived on the structure, and did not fund, design, build or set the location for it.
“I was volunteering for the project promoting it with the desire to be able to be the first seasteader and continue promoting it while living on the platform,” Elwartowski told The Associated Press.
“Being a foreigner in a foreign land, seeing the news that they want to give me the death penalty for just living on a floating house had me quite scared,” Elwartowski said. “We are still quite scared for our lives. We seriously did not think we were doing anything wrong and thought this would be a huge benefit for Thailand in so many ways.”
Asked his next step, he was more optimistic.
“I believe my lawyer can come to an amicable agreement with the Thai government,” he said.