Somali militants say French hostage sentenced to death

Updated 16 January 2013
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Somali militants say French hostage sentenced to death

MOGADISHU: Somali militants linked to Al-Qaeda said on Wednesday they had sentenced a French agent to death after a failed attempt by French armed forces to rescue him last weekend.
It was unclear whether the rebels were saying they had already killed Denis Allex, held hostage in Somalia since 2009. France said it had heard nothing since the military raid to alter its belief that he was killed during the rescue operation.
Al Shabab said in a statement their decision to kill Allex was unanimous and followed three years of what it called “exhaustive attempts at negotiations” over his release.
The militants put up fierce resistance when French commandos flew into southern Somalia by helicopter under cover of darkness early on Saturday to try to free Allex.
Two of the commandos died in the raid.
“With the rescue attempt ... France has voluntarily signed Allex’s death warrant,” Al-Shabab said in an e-mailed statement that was also posted on the group’s official Twitter handle.
“It is the government of France ... which must bear full responsibility for the death of Allex,” it said.
On Wednesday, Edouard Guillard, chief of staff for the French armed forces, told Europe 1 Radio there had been nothing since the raid to suggest Allex was alive and the rebels were engaged in “media manipulation.”
“We think he is likely dead,” Guillard said.
French President Francois Hollande, in a speech to the press later on Wednesday, said he took responsibility for the failed rescue operation of Allex, calling it “heavy with consequences.”
“It involved the death, the assassination, of the hostage and two soldiers were taken,” Hollande said. “I fully stand by this operation. Because it’s also a message we’re sending. France cannot accept that its nationals be taken.”
Allex was one of two officers from the DGSE intelligence agency kidnapped by Al-Shabab in Mogadishu in July 2009. His colleague, Marc Aubriere, escaped a month later but Allex had been held ever since in what Hollande on Wednesday called “abominable conditions.”
In October, the militants uploaded a video of Allex pleading with Hollande to negotiate his release and save his life. Hollande said at the time the government was seeking to start talks with any party to facilitate his release.
After Allex’s abduction, Al-Shabab issued a series of demands including an end to French support for the Somali government and a withdrawal of the 17,600-strong African peacekeeping force propping up the UN-backed administration.
“Efforts were repeatedly hampered as the DGSE proved to be unreasonably apathetic and wilfully uncooperative,” the rebels said.
Al Shabab wants to impose their strict version of sharia, or Islamic law, across the Horn of Africa state, though it has lost significant territory in southern and central Somalia in the face of an offensive by African troops.
The rebel group, which formally merged with Al-Qaeda in February last year, is known to mete out beheadings and amputations and has banned music and football in areas under its control.


8 deaths and 30 confirmed Ebola cases in Congo

Updated 5 min 19 sec ago
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8 deaths and 30 confirmed Ebola cases in Congo

KINSHASA, Congo: Congo’s fight to rein in a deadly Ebola outbreak has authorities crossing the border to buy up available thermometers, a World Health Organization official said, as the health ministry on Thursday announced that confirmed cases had reached 30, including eight deaths.
The spread of the often lethal hemorrhagic fever to a provincial capital of 1.2 million people has health officials scrambling to monitor for Ebola at busy ports in the capital, Kinshasa, which is downstream from the infected city of Mbandaka on the Congo River.
Mbandaka is one of three health zones with confirmed Ebola cases, complicating efforts to find and monitor hundreds of people who have been in contact with those infected. Two of the health zones are rural and remote, with few roads or other infrastructure.
In Kinshasa, travelers streamed off boats at ports on the Congo River and ran a gauntlet of health officials watching for signs of infection.
“We want to ensure that ports and airports are effectively protected,” WHO’s Congo representative Allarangar Yakouide told The Associated Press. “I assure you, we have already taken all the thermometers that are in Kinshasa, practically all the thermometers, and there are even colleagues who are going on the other side to Brazzaville to buy thermometers.”
The Republic of Congo’s capital is across the river from Kinshasa, a city of 10 million.
A wave of panic briefly hit Kinshasa on Wednesday after rumors spread that an Ebola case had been admitted to the Kinshasa General Hospital. Yakouide denied it, saying no cases had been confirmed in the capital and warning against spreading false reports which “could create panic and undermine the effectiveness of the response to the Ebola outbreak.”
As of Thursday, Congo’s health ministry reported 30 confirmed Ebola cases, 14 probable ones and 14 suspected.
This is Congo’s ninth Ebola outbreak since 1976, when the disease was first identified. The virus has twice made it to Kinshasa but was effectively contained.
Some residents of the capital expressed confidence that the outbreak would not reach their city from the rural villages or Mbandaka, which is an hour’s flight from Kinshasa but several days’ journey by barge.
“The victim will be far from others so that he cannot contaminate them. The doctors have already gone down to the site to see what’s going on, so how is this disease going to happen here in Kinshasa?” asked Georgette Boluka, a market vendor at one of Kinshasa’s ports.
Concerns remained among health officials, however, after the aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres on Wednesday said two infected patients who fled from an Ebola treatment center in Mbandaka later died.
“Forced hospitalization is not the solution to this epidemic” and instead more community engagement is needed to prevent the virus’ spread, said MSF’s emergency coordinator, Henry Gray.
The WHO emergencies chief, Dr. Peter Salama, warned Wednesday that “the next few weeks will really tell if this outbreak is going to expand to urban areas or if we’re going to be able to keep it under control.” The risk of spread within Congo is “very high,” WHO says.