Nigeria: Boko Haram’s Deadly School Attack
In the early hours of Tuesday 25 February, about 50 gunmen from the Islamist extremist group Boko Haram stormed a co-educational, federal government boarding school in Buni Yadi, Yobe State, about 65km from the state capital, Damaturu. The attackers locked a dormitory and set it on fire, killing many students inside. Students who tried to escape were shot or knifed to death. In all, there were 59 fatalities; all killed were males; some female students were abducted, others ordered to quit school and go get married or be killed in future attacks. The school’s 24 buildings were completely burned down.
What has been the government’s reaction?
President Goodluck Jonathan has called the attack “a callous and senseless murder … by deranged terrorists and fanatics who have clearly lost all human morality and descended to bestiality”. A military spokesman in Yobe State, Captain Lazarus Eli, said troops were “in pursuit of the killers”, but military authorities offered no further details. Many commentators on social media and radio/television talk programs dismiss these reactions for being insufficient.
What is the local reaction?
This incident, and several other attacks this month, are seen as further examples of the failure of the government and the military to protect Nigeria’s citizens. The rising casualties from recent attacks are fuelling an already considerable anger, not only in the north east, which is worst hit by the violence, but across the country.
Why are the militants increasingly targeting civilians?
Because they are soft targets. The militants accuse communities – especially those with significant Christian populations – of collaborating with government security forces. Their terror tactics are intended to compel compliance with their ideology. (For more on the historical and ideological roots of the movement, see our 2010 report Northern Nigeria: Background to Conflict.)
Why are they targeting schools?
They say secular, state schools are the main conduits through which Western values, which they consider un-Islamic and therefore corrupting, are being transmitted to the local society.
President Jonathan declared a state of emergency in 2013 and launched a military offensive in May to crush the rebels. Why is this not working?
The military operation has been difficult for several reasons. First, this is an unconventional, asymmetric war (in which the attackers generally avoid direct combat but attack soft targets like schools and remote villages). Second, the military initially had little or no capacity (training, equipment, special units, etc.) for operations against such insurgents. Lastly the terrain is vast and difficult. The three states where Boko Haram is most active (Adamawa, Borno and Yobe, all covered by the state of emergency) total 154,000 sq km: larger than the U.S. state of Georgia and nearly two thirds the size of the UK. The number of soldiers deployed would need to be considerable to provide adequate protection to all possible targets, especially remote communities. Yobe State Governor Ibrahim Geidam and Borno State Governor Kashim Shettima have recently criticised the military’s performance, insisting more resources are needed to defeat the increasingly well-armed and apparently emboldened insurgents. The military’s performance has been compromised by rivalries with other security agencies. There are indications of possible sabotage by military elements who support, or are sympathetic to, Boko Haram’s demand for an Islamic state to counter the corruption and dysfunction of the current government. Military authorities also suggest they are not getting maximum cooperation from the security forces of neighbouring countries, particularly Cameroon.
What are the implications for the 2015 elections?
The Independent National Electoral Commission warned in December 2013 that it might not be able to conduct elections in the three states (Adamawa, Borno and Yobe) under emergency rule if the attacks continue into next year. These states are among sixteen in which the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) is quite strong. Some opposition politicians are already alleging that Jonathan is allowing the poor security situation to persist, or even deteriorate, in order not to hold polls in those states. A general or presidential election that leaves out these three states could give Jonathan’s People’s Democratic Party (PDP) a significant advantage at the polls. If Jonathan wins re-election that way, the opposition will likely vigorously challenge his victory; the 2011 post-election violence in the north killed more than 1,000.
However, conversely, there are those who believe the government’s management of the conflict reflects poorly on the Jonathan administration and therefore continued attacks could dim the president’s chances of re-election.
Boko Haram recently said it will strike oil installations in the Niger Delta and assassinate leading political figures nationwide. How serious is this threat?
Security sources say they do not underestimate Boko Haram’s capacity for wreaking havoc. In 2011, Boko Haram carried out suicide-bomb attacks on the national police force headquarters as well as the complex housing all UN agencies in Abuja, the Nigerian capital – about 850km away from the attackers’ base in Borno State. (See our commentary at the time.) No target anywhere in the country is entirely secure. Boko Haram cells have been uncovered in the south, including Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital. Some suspected members were arrested recently in Port Harcourt, the largest city in the Niger Delta and hub of the country’s oil industry. The possibility of the group striking oil facilities cannot be ruled out.
If the group is planning to attack oil installations in the Niger Delta, would they do this on their own or possibly in collaboration with the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND)?
Collaborating with MEND is highly unlikely. The two groups have strikingly opposing ideologies, interests and goals. Boko Haram views MEND as part of the “infidel” southern Nigeria; MEND views Boko Haram as part of a “Hausa/Fulani/Islamist” plot to dominate the country (especially the oil-producing areas) for its own purposes.
Egypt’s Generals turn to an Old Rival in the Fight against Islamist Militancy in Sinai | Tom Stevenson
For over two years, the Islamist militant group Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis (ABM) has been launching violent attacks against the Egyptian state in North Sinai. These fighters have been responsible for killing dozens of Egyptians in coordinated bombings, carrying out a handful of assassination attempts, and earlier this month demonstrated a possible change in tactics when suicide attackers blew up a bus killing three South Korean tourists and the Egyptian driver.
Despite regular claims to have killed or captured key militants, the Egyptian government’s attempts to quell the violence from this group have so far proven ineffective. There have been over 300 reported attacks since last July, and the run of attacks shows no sign of abating.
With insecurity in the Sinai peninsula deteriorating and Cairo looking short of options, it is little wonder that it has turned to others for help in tackling the Islamist militancy. However its latest choice of partner may raise some eyebrows.
FULL ARTICLE (Think Africa Press)
Photo: Hossam el-Hamalawy/flickr
Yemen: Conflict Alert
Sanaa/Brussels | 26 Feb 2014
In Yemen’s far North, a patchwork of ceasefires between the Huthi movement, also known as Ansar Allah, and its various adversaries is in peril. The Yemeni government needs to take bold action, in coordination with the international community, to prevent a relapse of violence that would almost certainly be more difficult to contain than the last round.
The threat of renewed violence comes at a delicate moment in Yemen’s transition. Having completed the National Dialogue Conference in January, the country now has a blueprint for a new federal state and democratic reform. Yet, the vision is aspirational at best and events on the ground are moving in a different direction. If rekindled, fighting in the North could significantly derail implementation by further fracturing political consensus and undermining already weak state authority.
The latest bout of fighting escalated in October 2013, when Huthi fighters surrounded the Dar al-Hadith Institute in Dammaj, a city in the Saada governorate, accusing Salafis there of recruiting foreign fighters and preparing for battle. The Salafis accused Huthis (revivalists of the Zaydi school of Shiite Islam) of unprovoked aggression against peaceful religious students. Fighting soon spread throughout five northern governorates, from the Saudi border in Kitaf to the gates of the Yemeni capital in the Arhab region.
In the course of recent combat, two loosely aligned fronts crystallised. On one side, the Ahmars – the pre-eminent family of the powerful Hashid tribal confederation – recruited and materially supported Salafi fighters. Their coalition allegedly has been supported by General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar (no relation to the family) through his loyalists in the Yemeni army in Amran governorate, and indirectly by the Sunni Islamist party, Islah, through its tribal affiliates. On the other side are seasoned Huthi fighters aligned with disgruntled northern tribesmen opposed to the Ahmars and Islah, many of whom have ties with the General People’s Congress (GPC) party and/or its founder, former President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
The Huthis have been winning. The January 2014 ceasefire signed in Dammaj, requiring Salafi fighters to evacuate and temporarily relocate to Sanaa, was a clear victory. The Huthis also won the battle for Kitaf, completing their conquest of the Saada governorate. More importantly, they pushed south into Amran, where they aligned with Hashid tribesmen long frustrated with the Ahmars. On 3 February, they destroyed an Ahmar family home, symbolically ending the family’s decades-long hegemony over the Hashid confederation. In Arhab, Islah-affiliated tribesmen managed to hold the line, nothing more.
After months of fighting, the state has little to no control over the far North. The Huthis administer their areas, providing security that the state has thus far been unable to deliver. While Huthis claim that they will relinquish heavy weapons and will support the political transition, opponents are deeply sceptical, claiming that the group seeks to establish a religious theocracy in Yemen or, at a minimum, to mimic the Lebanese Hizbollah model of a state within a state.
Huthi victory in Amran has stoked fears that the group, emboldened by its substantial advances, will attempt an invasion of Sanaa. These fears are overplayed. The Huthis already exert significant political influence in the capital, and an attack could well backfire by jeopardising their popular support, damaging their international standing and bringing the army, which thus far has remained neutral – officially at least – into the fight against them. Yet, all parties are armed in the capital, and they might not act fully rationally should clashes renew.
To date, President Abdo Robo Mansour Hadi has chosen, shrewdly, to remain neutral and to avoid military action that almost certainly would complicate the situation and worsen the violence. He instead has supported presidential committees that belatedly have negotiated ceasefires, first in Dammaj and more recently in Arhab and Hashid (in Amran governorate). However, these are tenuous and by their nature limited. A comprehensive peace requires that each side realise some key demands: for the Huthis, the right to peacefully propagate their religious ideas, mobilise supporters and engage in political activity; for their opponents, that Huthis relinquish heavy weapons to the state and advance their agenda only through peaceful party politics.
Both sets of demands are desirable in and of themselves and conform to the results of the national dialogue. Yet, achieving them will be far from simple: it will require the design of and commitment to a plan of action and an oversight mechanism that are linked to political power sharing and security sector reform at the national level.
During this fragile lull, the Yemeni government and international community should act decisively to prevent a rekindling of violence as a first step toward a durable peace agreement. This requires several steps:
PHOTO: REUTERS/Mohamed al-Sayaghi
Left in the Cold? The ELN and Colombia’s Peace Talks
Bogotá/Brussels | 26 Feb 2014
Bringing the National Liberation Army (ELN) into the current round of negotiations is vital for durable peace.
In its latest report, Left in the Cold? The ELN and Colombia’s Peace Talks, the International Crisis Group examines the opportunities for talks between Bogotá and the National Liberation Army (ELN). As the Havana-based peace talks with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Colombia’s largest guerrilla group, look increasingly promising, pressure is growing to open a separate, but coordinated, negotiation with the ELN. Yet getting there is proving difficult. The ELN thinks the government needs to make an overture or risk ongoing conflict; the government believes the ELN must show flexibility or risk being left out. But delay is in neither’s long-term interest. They should open negotiations soonest.
The report’s major findings and recommendations are:
Although weakened, the ELN is not close to defeat. Stronger involvement in the drug economy and illegal mining has helped it resist military pressure and even begin a tentative recovery.
Postponing negotiations with the ELN until after a deal with FARC has been reached might appear attractive but would not be prudent, as continuation of the conflict would then risk undermining implementation of a possible FARC deal.
Even more than the government, the ELN has an interest in engaging in talks soon. Failure to do so would expose the organisation to escalating military operations, growing pressure to adhere to outcomes reached only with FARC and ever fewer possibilities to negotiate issues beyond the terms of its own demobilisation.
ELN demands for a wide agenda and broad social participation in talks are at odds with the Havana template’s narrow and confidential focus. Nonetheless, common ground exists, and an agenda focusing on transitional justice, political participation and (the ELN’s core grievance) exploitation of natural resources should not be beyond reach.
“How the ELN handles this situation will shape more than its own path. Continuing and potentially intensifying warfare in ELN strongholds would above all be a tragedy for communities that have already suffered decades of violence”, says Christian Voelkel, Crisis Group’s Colombia/Andes Analyst. “And without the second insurgency on board, the government’s stated goal of ending the conflict would remain elusive”.
“While both sides have incentives to move expeditiously to formal negotiations, the way forward will not be easy”, says Javier Ciurlizza, Crisis Group’s Latin America Program Director. “Audacity, creativity and pragmatism are needed from all if the ELN is not to miss what could be its last chance to exit gracefully from armed conflict, and Colombia is to seize its chance of achieving sustainable peace”.
"North Korea is far outside the boundary of accepted behavior" - expert | Roman Kosarev
The exercises led to an extended surging tension last year when North Korea threatening preemptive nuclear strikes and attacks on South Korean and US targets. Meanwhile around 360 South Koreans reportedly met their North Korean relatives on Monday for the first time since the Korean War, that lasted between 1950 and 1953. The family reunion event took place in North Korea’s mount Kumgang resort. The Voice of Russia talked to Daniel Pinkston, a North East Asia Deputy Project Director at the International Crisis Group.
FULL INTERVIEW (Voice of Russia)
Central African Republic: Making the Mission Work | Thierry Vircoulon and Thibaud Lesueur
By failing to engage when Crisis Group and others warned that the Central African Republic had become a phantom state, the international community has now had to become much more heavily involved, at much greater expense, after horrifying loss of life and massive displacement, with much greater odds of failure. The new CAR government (the third in one in a year) looks promising and the capital, Bangui, enjoys slightly more security. Yet the international response continues to be riven by divisions, most notoriously between the African Union and the UN. CAR’s new president has called for a UN peacekeeping mission and Chad, an important regional player which initially opposed this option, now agrees. The Security Council has itself approved a European Union mission, soon to be deployed. But peacekeepers (EU and otherwise) must be guided by a stabilisation strategy that is coherent, comprehensive and meets the needs of CAR not just in the short-term but over the long haul.
Egyptian cabinet resigns, paving way for military chief to run for president | Abigail Hauslohner
Egyptian Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi announced Monday that his cabinet was resigning, marking yet another abrupt shift in a nation that has been wracked by insurgency and political and economic uncertainty.
“Today the cabinet took a decision to offer its resignation to the president of the republic,” Beblawi said in a statement to Egyptian state television.
He did not offer any reason for the surprise move. But the mass resignation paves the way for the country’s powerful military commander, Field Marshal Abdel Fatah al-Sissi, who is also the country’s defense minister and first deputy prime minister, to run for president.
FULL ARTICLE (Washington Post)
Photo: World Economic Forum/flickr
Maduro Kicks CNN Out of Venezuela Ahead of Protests | Pietro D. Pitts and Charlie Devereux
Venezuela’s government revoked the credentials for CNN’s main reporter in the country as President Nicolas Maduro seeks to crack down on nine-day-old protests that have led to eight deaths.
Reporter Patricia Janiot and six other CNN journalists had their accreditations revoked, according to the news channel and the government. CNN and CNN en Espanol signals continue to broadcast within the country, the company said. Maduro accused the network of misreporting the political crisis, a week after he took Colombian television channel NTN24 off the air following its coverage of the demonstrations.
FULL ARTICLE (Bloomberg)
France risks long stay after misjudging Central African Republic | John Irish and Daniel Flynn
When France sent troops to halt violence between Christians and Muslims in Central African Republic, commanders named the mission Sangaris after a local butterfly to reflect its short life. Three months later, it is clear they badly miscalculated.
Buoyed by a swift victory in last year’s war against Islamists in Mali, France’s military predicted six months would be enough to quell sectarian conflict in Central African Republic, which began in March when Muslim Seleka rebels seized power in the majority Christian country.
FULL ARTICLE (Reuters)
Concern, Little Sympathy, for Australian Missionary Detained in North Korea | Michelle Arrouas
Karen Short seemed calm and collected during our interview. She had every reason not to be. Her husband, Australian missionary John Short, was detained in North Korea on Sunday for disseminating religious material. The 75-year-old carried Korean-language pamphlets advocating Christianity into the East Asian nation, and these were later discovered by security personnel.
“[John] does not live in the realm of ‘what if’ I get caught — otherwise he would never have done the things that he has been doing,” Karen Short told TIME at the couple’s bookstore in Hong Kong’s New Territories.
North Korea is widely considered one of the world’s most brutal regimes. A U.N. report released this week detailed unparalleled “crimes against humanity” including extermination, murder, enslavement, torture and rape by the government of young despot Kim Jong Un. Foreign nationals have also fallen victim. In November, Korean-American Kenneth Bae, another missionary, was sentenced to 15 years for “hostile acts” and currently toils in a labor camp.
FULL ARTICLE (Time)
Photo: U.S. Army Korea (Historical Image Archive)/flickr