Niger says US aid worker ‘most likely being held by Mali militants’

French soldiers of the Barkhane counter terrorism operation patrol in a street of Kidal, in this October 3, 2016 photo. (AFP)
Updated 16 October 2016
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Niger says US aid worker ‘most likely being held by Mali militants’

ABIDJAN: A US aid worker kidnapped in Niger is likely being held by militants from the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (Mujao), the country’s interior minister said Sunday.
Jeffery Woodke — the first American to be kidnapped in the west African country — was seized at gunpoint from his home in the central town of Abalak on Friday.
Interior Minister Mohamed Bazoum told AFP that Niger’s forces had tracked the kidnappers across the border into Mali, toward the region of Menaka which is controlled by the Al-Qaeda linked Mujao.
“He was probably kidnapped by the Mujao or handed over to the Mujao by those who abducted him,” said Bazoum by telephone.
“We have had no contact with the Mujao, which is a terrorist organization,” he added.
Bazoum’s ministry said earlier that Woodke had been in the Abalak area since 1992 working for JEMED, an aid group helping the local Tuareg community.
A local resident who knew him described him as “perfectly integrated with the population” speaking the Tuaregs’ Tamasheq language fluently as well as Fula and Arabic.
“We tried many times to make him leave the area as he was more exposed than ever, but he refused, saying he wasn’t afraid,” the resident said on condition of anonymity.
Woodke’s kidnappers burst into his home at around 9 p.m. on Friday, killing a bodyguard and a member of the national guard before seizing the aid worker and heading west.
Mujao has abducted several foreigners in the restive region including in Mali and Algeria.
Northern Mali fell under the control of Al-Qaeda-linked jihadist groups in 2012. A French-led military intervention pushed them out, but swathes of the country remain out of government control and awash with armed groups.
Niger’s long, porous borders make it occasionally vulnerable to the armed violence in neighboring countries.
Last week, 22 of Niger’s soldiers were killed when armed men who had traveled from Mali launched an attack on a refugee camp in the town of Tazalit.
Niger also faces constant attacks in the southeast from Nigerian jihadist group Boko Haram.
The Tahoua region, where Friday’s kidnapping took place, neighbors Agadez where the US has a military base which it uses to launch surveillance drones targeting jihadist groups.
A senior security source told AFP the kidnapping came as a surprise, as “the Americans do not pay ransoms.”
In January 2011, two young French people were kidnapped from a restaurant in Niamey and were killed shortly afterwards during a rescue attempt.
The previous year, five employees of the French energy firm Areva were kidnapped by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb (AQIM) from a uranium mine in Arlit, north of the country.
Four men were freed in 2013 after the earlier release of the sole female hostage.


Toronto: Bodies and debris scattered over mile-long strip

Updated 24 April 2018
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Toronto: Bodies and debris scattered over mile-long strip

  • At least 10 people have died in the attack officials called “deliberate” but not linked to national security concerns
  • Toronto police have the suspect after a confrontation

TORONTO: The crime scene seems to go on forever, a taped off stretch of street scattered with bodies under orange sheets, urban debris and a pair of abandoned shoes.

Toronto police have arrived, and a suspect is under lock and key, but no one yet knows why the driver of a white rental van spread death and destruction under the warm spring sunshine.

“I heard screaming, yelling. I turned back and saw this truck going that way. He was going in and out, back and forth, zigzagging. He just kept on going,” said 42-year-old Rocco Cignielli.

There was nothing the customer service worker could do. Emergency services were on the scene quickly, but in some cases their efforts were in vain.

At least 10 people have died in the attack officials called “deliberate” but not linked to national security concerns.

“I saw there were people lying on the ground. I saw they were doing heart compression, and I saw two people dying right here in front of me,” Cignielli told AFP, pointing at the bodies.

It was shortly after 1 p.m. (1700 GMT) on a working Monday when the speeding van hit this commercial thoroughfare in a district of high-rise residences in the north of Canada’s biggest city.

A pale but cheery sun shone after a long and grim final winter stretch even by the region’s standards. Many local people were out and about.

Nana Agyeman Badu, a 56-year-old taxi driver, saw the van heading south toward central Toronto, where ministers from the G7 world powers were holding a security conference. Then the van swerved onto the sidewalk.

“I thought maybe he was making a delivery. But I was thinking, ‘Why would he drive in the pedestrian walkway like that?’ Very fast. Then I saw he had already run over some people,” the witness said.

“A lady was walking toward the car close to a bus shelter. The truck pinged the lady through the bus shelter and she fell back and all the broken glass fell onto her,” he added.

“I stopped and ran out to help her. The truck continued going and going and going.”

The truck smashed a yellow fire hydrant, a few newspaper dispensers and there, a bit further, lie a pair of sneakers.

“They belong to a victim,” a police officer said.

Some in a crowd that gathered by the police tape as dozens of rescue vehicles were deployed were dumbfounded. “It is a dangerous crossroads,” one woman suggested.

“Oh, it was no accident,” declared another passerby.