US warns military takeovers in Africa’s Sahel hamper fight against terrorism in the volatile region

People cheer in celebration as security forces drive through the streets of the capital Bamako, Mali, Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2020, a day after armed soldiers fired into the air outside President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita's home and took him into their custody. (AP)
People cheer in celebration as security forces drive through the streets of the capital Bamako, Mali, Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2020, a day after armed soldiers fired into the air outside President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita's home and took him into their custody. (AP)
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Updated 26 August 2023
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US warns military takeovers in Africa’s Sahel hamper fight against terrorism in the volatile region

US warns military takeovers in Africa’s Sahel hamper fight against terrorism in the volatile region
  • Voronkov said the Daesh affiliate in the Sahel “is becoming increasingly autonomous and increasing attacks” in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, where the presidential guard took the elected president and his family hostage in July

UNITED NATIONS: The United States warned Friday that the string of military takeovers in Africa’s Sahel region will hamper the fight against terrorism and demanded that Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers deny safe haven to terrorist groups including Al-Qaeda and the Daesh.
US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield told a UN Security Council meeting that the United States is focused on the increasing terrorism threat across Africa and continues providing its African partners with “critical assistance in disrupting and degrading” Daesh and Al-Qaeda affiliates.
The long-scheduled council meeting on combating terrorism took place days after the head of Russia’s Wagner Group, Yevgeny Progozhin, and top associates were reportedly killed in a plane crash after leaving Moscow. They had just returned from Africa where Wagner mercenaries are active in now military-ruled Mali and Burkina Faso, which face escalating terrorist threats.
Thomas-Greenfield was asked after the council meeting what the West should do to stabilize the situation in those countries and others in Africa where Wagner is active, including Libya, following Prigozhin’s death and uncertainty about the future of Wagner’s African operations.
The US ambassador had no comment on Prigozhin but said: “Our position on Wagner is very well known. Their actions and their activities in Africa are destabilizing, and we’ve encouraged countries in Africa to condemn their presence as well as their actions.”
In his briefing to the council, UN counter-terrorism chief Vladimir Voronkov reiterated that the threat from the Daesh, also known by its Arabic acronym Daesh, constitutes “a serious threat in conflict zones and neighboring countries.”
“In parts of Africa, the continued expansion of Daesh and affiliated groups, as well as the increasing level of violence and threat, remain deeply concerning,” he said.
Voronkov said the Daesh affiliate in the Sahel “is becoming increasingly autonomous and increasing attacks” in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, where the presidential guard took the elected president and his family hostage in July.
“The confrontations between this group and an Al-Qaeda affiliate in the region, coupled with the uncertain situation after the coup d’etat in the Niger, present a complex and multi-faceted challenge,” Voronkov said.
In Congo, he said, attacks by terrorists and armed groups have also increased along with their continuing clashes with government forces. He said that in the country’s volatile east some 500 people have perished due to terrorist violence.
The conflict in Sudan, which began in mid-April, also renewed attention “on the presence and activity of Daesh and other terrorist groups in that country,” Voronkov said.
Beyond Africa, he said, the situation “is growing increasingly complex” in Afghanistan, with weapons and ammunition falling into the hands of terrorists. The operational capabilities of the Daesh affiliate known as Daesh-Khorasan has reportedly increased, “with the group becoming more sophisticated in its attacks against the Taliban and international targets,” he said.
Voronkov also warned that the presence of some 20 terrorist groups in Afghanistan combined with the Taliban’s repressive measures, the lack of development “and a dire humanitarian situation pose significant challenges for the region and beyond.”
Russian deputy ambassador Maria Zabolotskaya blamed “the collective West’s intervention in the affairs of sovereign developing countries” and their “destructive role” for fueling the growth of terrorism. She claimed the West plundered the natural resources of these countries and only provided weak economic development and public administration.
She said foreign troops led by the United States were in Afghanistan for over 20 years “under the pretext of fighting terrorists” but they departed without defeating Al-Qaeda, leaving behind a huge quantity of weapons and military equipment. “And consequently, the Western weapons that were brought into the country to fight terrorism ended up among other places in the hands of the terrorists themselves,” she said.
Zabolotskaya claimed the Daesh appeared in Africa as a result of the NATO-backed uprising in Libya that toppled and killed longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi in 2011 and plunged the country into chaos.
And she said the size of the Daesh group’s emergence in the Middle East was “a direct result of the aggression of the United States and their coalition against Iraq” in March 2003. While Daesh has largely been defeated in Iraq and Syria, she said, “pockets of terrorist activity remain in areas illegally occupied by the US military.”
UN experts said in a report circulated on Aug. 14 that the Daesh group still commands between 5,000 and 7,000 members across its former stronghold in Syria and Iraq and its fighters pose the most serious terrorist threat in Afghanistan today. The experts monitoring sanctions against the militant group also said that during the first half of 2023 that the threat posed by Daesh remained “mostly high in conflict zones and low in non-conflict areas.”

 

 


At least 58 people die after boat capsizes in Central Africa

At least 58 people die after boat capsizes in Central Africa
Updated 20 sec ago
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At least 58 people die after boat capsizes in Central Africa

At least 58 people die after boat capsizes in Central Africa
  • The wooden boat was overloaded with more than 300 people when it sank on the Mpoko river, say rescuers
  • Witnesses said the passengers were headed to the funeral of a village chief when the tragedy happened

BANGUI, Central African Republic: At least 58 people going to a funeral died after their overloaded river boat capsized in the Central African Republic’s capital Bangui, the head of civil protection said on Saturday.

“We were able to extract 58 lifeless bodies,” Thomas Djimasse told Radio Guira. “We don’t know the total number of people who are underwater.
According to witnesses and videos on social media, the wooden boat was carrying more than 300 people — some standing and others perched on wooden structures — when it sank on the Mpoko river on Friday.
The vessel was heading to the funeral of a village chief in Makolo, some 45 kilometers (28 miles) from Bangui, but got into difficulty shortly after setting off from the pier.
Rescue services arrived 40 minutes after the disaster.
The government did not respond on Saturday but in a speech recorded on Friday and broadcast a day later, government spokesman Maxime Balalou had reported a “provisional toll of at least 30 dead.”
The government sent its condolences to the bereaved families, he said, announcing the opening of an investigation and the setting up of a support system for families of the victims.
Maurice Kapenya, who was following the boat in a canoe because there was no space on board, said his own sister was among the bodies of the victims he had recovered.
He was helped by local fisherman and residents. Motorbike taxis meanwhile evacuated some of the injured.
Driver Francis Maka told AFP he had “taken more than 10 people to the community hospital... free of charge, in the face of the tragedy.”
With civil protection teams no longer on the scene Saturday, desperate families searching for missing loved ones near the river helped canoe operators they had hired, an AFP journalist observed.
Several opposition parties expressed solidarity with the families and called for national mourning.

The Central African Republic is ranked by the United Nations as the second least-developed country in the world.
A civil war has plagued the former French colony since a Muslim-dominated armed coalition called the Seleka ousted former president Francois Bozize in 2013.
The conflict lost intensity from 2018 but the country still suffers bouts of violence by rebel groups or over its resources, which include gold and diamonds.
French intervention and deployment of UN peacekeepers paved the way for elections in 2016, which President Faustin Archange Touadera won.
Two years later, Touadera brought in fighters from Russia’s Wagner mercenary group to help train his armed forces.
The country still suffers bouts of violence by rebel groups or over its resources, which include gold and diamonds.
In 2020, CAR brought in more Russian operatives as rebel groups advanced on the capital and repelled a siege of Bangui.
However, some areas of the country remain outside government control.


Russia warns of more death and destruction as US House passes Ukraine aid bill

Russia warns of more death and destruction as US House passes Ukraine aid bill
Updated 15 min 54 sec ago
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Russia warns of more death and destruction as US House passes Ukraine aid bill

Russia warns of more death and destruction as US House passes Ukraine aid bill
  • Aid package will make US get richer, but further ruin Ukraine and result in the deaths of even more Ukrainians, says Putin's spokesman
  • The legislative package approved by the US House of Representatives provides $60.84 billion to Ukraine, including $23 billion to replenish weapons, stocks and facilities

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Saturday that US House of Representatives’ approval of security aid to Ukraine would lead to more damage and deaths in the conflict there.

The decision “will make the United States of America richer, further ruin Ukraine and result in the deaths of even more Ukrainians, the fault of the Kyiv regime,” Peskov was quoted as saying by Russian news agencies.
The Kremlin has been locked in conflict in Ukraine since invading it more than two years ago.
The House approved a legislative package providing $60.84 billion to Ukraine, including $23 billion to replenish US weapons, stocks and facilities.
The package now goes to the US Senate, which passed a similar measure two months ago, for expected approval next week. It then is passed on to President Joe Biden to sign.
Peskov also said that provisions in the legislation allowing the US administration to confiscate seized Russian assets and transfer them to Ukraine to fund reconstruction would tarnish the image of the United States.
Russia, he said, would enact retaliatory measures.
Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, writing on the Telegram messaging app, said the approval of US aid for Ukraine was expected and grounded in “Russophobia.”
“We will, of course, be victorious regardless of the bloodsoaked $61 billion, which will mostly be swallowed up by their insatiable military industrial complex,” wrote Medvedev, one of Russia’s most vociferous hawks as deputy chairman of the Security Council.
Maria Zakharova, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, said the approval of aid in the legislation to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan would “deepen crises throughout the world.”
“Military assistance to the Kyiv regime is direct sponsorship of terrorist activity,” Zakharova wrote on Telegram.
“To Taiwan, it is interference in China’s internal affairs. To Israel, it is a road straight to escalation and an unprecedented rise in tension in the region.”


Christie’s to hold ‘Art of Islamic and Indian Worlds’ auction in London

Christie’s to hold ‘Art of Islamic and Indian Worlds’ auction in London
Updated 38 min 9 sec ago
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Christie’s to hold ‘Art of Islamic and Indian Worlds’ auction in London

Christie’s to hold ‘Art of Islamic and Indian Worlds’ auction in London

LONDON: Christie’s has announced a spring sale of “Art of the Islamic and Indian Worlds including Rugs and Carpets,” which will be presented during a live auction at the British auction house’s London headquarters on April 25.

“This season the sale offers a curated selection of 261 lots including four unique collections,” Christie’s said in a statement. “Illustrating the breadth of craftsmanship across 10 centuries, works date from the 10th century to the 20th century and cover a diversity of artistic traditions.”

The works include paintings, ceramics, metal work, works on paper, arms, textiles and rugs and carpets from across the Islamic world, spanning the Silk Route linking China to the West.

A number of private collections will be auctioned, including early Iranian ceramics from a private American collection, as well as Persian and Indian paintings from the collection of art specialists Charles and Regina Slatkin that features a rare work by the Bukhara artist Mahmud Muzahhib.

The carpet section of the auction “is led by Sultans of Silk: The George Farrow Collection, which is a comprehensive study of the very best of silk rug weaving of the late 19th and early 20th centuries gathered over forty years by the late George Farrow,” Christie’s said in its statement. The collection will offer more than 40 finely woven silk carpets.

According to Christie’s, Farrow was a British collector of silk rugs and his “expansive collection” comprises a variety of silk weavings from different origins.

Sara Plumbly, head of Islamic and Indian art at Christie’s, said: “We are delighted to offer a wide variety of works of art from across the Islamic and Indian worlds this season (and) we are particularly excited about three private collections, all with long provenance, that highlight the breadth and diversity of the artistic traditions of Iran — from Safavid textiles and painting to medieval pottery.”

Louise Broadhurst, international head of rugs and carpets at Christie’s, said the auction house “is honored to offer the collection of George Farrow, whose passion for antique silk rugs is reflected in the illuminating breadth of examples gathered over four decades, which include highlights rarely seen on today’s market.”

The “Art of the Islamic and Indian Worlds including Rugs and Carpets” is open to the public ahead of the live auction from April 21-24 at Christie’s in London.


Germany to send new frigate to protect ships in the Red Sea

Germany will send a new frigate to the Red Sea in August. (AFP file photo)
Germany will send a new frigate to the Red Sea in August. (AFP file photo)
Updated 20 April 2024
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Germany to send new frigate to protect ships in the Red Sea

Germany will send a new frigate to the Red Sea in August. (AFP file photo)
  • The Houthis said on Thursday they had attacked almost 100 vessels in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden in months of strikes
  • Leading shipping industry associations appeal to UN to protect vessels after Iran seizure

BERLIN: Germany said on Saturday it will send a new frigate to the Red Sea in August to help secure maritime traffic, which has been disrupted for months due to Houthi attacks.

Defense Minister Boris Pistorius said the “Hamburg” will replace the “Hessen,” which left the zone on Saturday.
The “Hessen” had been deployed in the area on Feb. 23 as part of the EU’s “Aspides” mission to protect ships.
The statement said the “Hamburg” had escorted 27 merchant ships in the intervention zone and had, on four occasions, repulsed drone and missile attacks by the Houthis.
It had around 240 military personnel on board.

BACKGROUND

Houthi attacks in the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea have been met with retaliatory strikes by US and British forces since January.

The Houthis said on Thursday they had attacked almost 100 vessels in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden in months of strikes.
They began attacking ships in the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea in November, a campaign they say is intended as a show of support for Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.
The attacks on the vital trade route have been met with retaliatory strikes by US and British forces since January.
The US set up a multinational task force late last year to “protect” Red Sea shipping.
Recent Houthi attacks on merchant shipping in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden have also affected the global maritime transport chain.
Merchant ships and seafarers are increasingly in peril at sea as attacks escalate in the Middle East, the industry said in a letter released on Friday. It said the UN must do more to protect supply chains.
In a letter sent to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, the world’s leading shipping industry associations said Iran’s seizure on April 13 of the MSC Aries container ship 50 nautical miles off the UAE coast “once again highlighted the intolerable situation where shipping has become a target.”
“Innocent seafarers have been killed. Seafarers are being held hostage,” the letter said.
“The world would be outraged if four airliners were seized and held hostage with innocent souls onboard. Regrettably, there does not seem to be the same response or concern (for ships and their crew members).”
India’s Foreign Ministry said on Thursday that an Indian woman who was a mariner on the MSC Aries had returned to the country.
It added that it was in touch with the other 16 Indian crew members still being held aboard the vessel.
The industry letter said: “Seafarers and the maritime sector are neutral and must not be politicized.”
The letter added: “Given the continually evolving and severe threat profile within the area, we call on you for enhanced coordinated military presence, missions, and patrols in the region to protect our seafarers against any further possible aggression.”
Iran has also seized other vessels in international waters in recent years, heightening risks for merchant shipping in the area.

 


Mediterranean ministers urge EU to ‘deepen’ ties to tackle migration roots

Mediterranean ministers urge EU to ‘deepen’ ties to tackle migration roots
Updated 20 April 2024
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Mediterranean ministers urge EU to ‘deepen’ ties to tackle migration roots

Mediterranean ministers urge EU to ‘deepen’ ties to tackle migration roots

MADRID: Ministers from five Mediterranean nations have urged the EU to “deepen” bilateral agreements with migrant countries of origin and increase funding to tackle the root causes of migration.
During the Gran Canaria Island meeting, ministers of interior and migration from the MED5 nations — Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Malta, and Spain — discussed the new migration and asylum pact adopted by the EU Parliament on April 11.
Years in the making, the deal involves a sweeping reform of the bloc’s asylum policies that will harden border procedures while forcing all 27 nations to share responsibility for migrant arrivals.

FASTFACT

The new EU pact includes building border centers to hold asylum-seekers and sending some to outside ‘safe’ countries.

The reform was spurred by the massive influx of migrants in 2015, with its provisions taking effect in 2026.
Hailing the pact as “historic,” Spanish Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska said there was “still a long way to go” and that the solution lay in “prevention” and addressing the root causes of migration “at its source.”
“The key to migration management lies in bilateral cooperation,” he told a news conference, urging the European Commission “to deepen and broaden partnerships and agreements with third countries” to stem flows of irregular migrants.
“But we believe there is room for improvement, and the commitment should also focus on increasing European funds and flexible financing tools destined for such cooperation,” he said.
Under current EU rules, the arrival country bears responsibility for hosting and vetting asylum-seekers and returning those deemed inadmissible, which has put southern frontline states under huge pressure, fueling far-right opposition.
The new EU pact, which includes building border centers to hold asylum-seekers and sending some to outside “safe” countries, has been denounced by migrant charities and NGOs, with Amnesty International warning it would “lead to greater human suffering.”