North Africa Theater
Amnesty International (AI) claimed Feb. 23 that the Egyptian military failed to take adequate precautionary measures to avoid civilian casualties in an attack on the Libyan city of Derna last week. The airstrikes occurred in the early morning hours of Feb. 16, and AI argues that indiscriminate attacks on civilian populations, such as this attack by the Egyptian military, amount to war crimes. The AI article cites eyewitness testimonies from local residents who claim there are no military targets near the largely residential area of Sheiha al-Gharbiya, where two missiles were fired resulting in the deaths of seven civilians. Additionally, Sheiha al-Gharbiya is located near the city's university. The international community is largely restricted to eyewitness accounts of missile attacks within urban areas of Libya due to the hostile conditions for journalists in the country. The Egyptian airstrikes were executed in retaliation for the slaughter of 21 Egyptian Christians [by presumed ISIS militants]. AI urges the Egyptian military and all warring parties in Libya to take all feasible precautions to spare civilians and to ensure that their forces do not carry out direct attacks on civilians or attacks which are indiscriminate or disproportionate.
Claims of an active Libyan branch of the ISIS franchise are given grim credence by photos circulating on social media purporting to show abducted Coptic Christians in the charactersitic pose of ISIS captives—kneeling in orange jump-suits as black-clad masked me stand over them menacingly. Text says they will be punished (presumably executed) as "revenge for the Muslims persecuted by the Coptic Crusaders of Egypt." A total of 21 Copts, all migrant laborers from Egypt, were abducted in the Libyan city of Sirte on in two incidents Dec. 31 and Jan. 3. Egypt's Foreign Ministry is investigating the authenticity of the photos, and has organized an emergency evacuation of Egyptian nationals from Libya. The anti-terrorist Quilliam Foundation is meanwhile claiming that ISIS has seized control of a radio station in Sirte. (Al Arabiya, Newsweek, Feb. 13; Egyptian Streets, Feb. 12)
At least 12 people were in clashes Feb. 6 between rival Tuareg groups at Tabankort, northwest of Kidal in northern Mali, local sources told Efe. (See map.) Reports said the separatist National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) suffered 10 deaths, while the pro-government Imghad Tuareg Self-Defense Group (GATIA), lost two fighters, according to the sources. For more than two weeks, the two groups have battled for control of land along the border with Algeria apparently with little interfrence from the Malian army or the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA). The Bamako government and MINUSMA opened talks in Algeria last week with the MNLA and allied High Council for Azawad Unity (HCUA). (EFE, MaliActu.net, Feb. 6)
Amnesty International called Jan. 15 for the release of three anti-slavery activists who were imprisoned in Mauritania. One of the imprisoned activists is prominent opposition politician Biram Ould Dah Ould Abeid, who was the runner-up in last June's presidential elections. The former presidential candidate is also the president of the Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement (IRA) and won a UN Human Rights Prize in 2013. The three activists were given two-year sentences after being convicted of membership of an unrecognized organization and of taking part in an unauthorized assembly. The court acquitted seven other activists. Protesters outside the courthouse demonstrating against the judgment were dispersed by police with batons and tear gas. The IRA members that were arrested were engaged in a peaceful campaign to raise awareness about land rights for people of slave descent. Slave descendants who work on the land do not have any rights and must give a portion of their crops to their traditional masters. Police broke up the peaceful IRA meeting due to the absence of documents authorizing the group to meet, despite the fact that the IRA had requested the documents. AI called the sentence "politically motivated."
Blogger Cheikh Ould Mohamed of Mauritania was sentenced to death for apostasy on Dec. 25 after a court convicted him of "speaking lightly of the Prophet Mohammed" on websites. The defendant fainted when the ruling was read out in a court in the port town of Nouadhibou, judicial sources told AFP. He was revived and taken to prison. Mohamed says he is repentant, and his lawyer pleaded for leniency. Mauritania has the death penalty, although Amnesty International says it has not carried out any executions since 1987. Sharia law is recognized, but enforcement of strict punishments such as floggings have been rare since the 1980s. (AFP via Al Arabiya, Dec. 25) Supporters have launched a Free Mohamed Cheikh wesbite.
The rapidly escalating civil war in Libya on Dec. 28 saw the first air-strikes on Misrata, the country's third city, since the fall of the Qaddafi regime in 2011. Warplanes under the command of Gen. Khalifa Haftar fired missiles at the city's airport—just 30 minutes before a Turkish Airlines flight was due to leave for Istanbul. The fighter jets went on to attack Libya's largest steel plant and an air force academy near the airport, which are under the control of Islamist forces. (Irish Independent, Dec. 29) The Misrata attacks came days after Egypt (which is said to be backing Gen. Haftar) issued a warning about international terrorist groups using Libyan territory as a staging ground, especially in the remote south. Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said that Nigeria's Boko Haram is among the groups that have established camps in southern Libya. (MENA, Dec. 23)
Gen. David Rodriguez, head of US Africa Command, said Dec. 3 that ISIS has set up training camps in eastern Libya, and that the Pentagon is closely monitoring the situation. He described the ISIS activity as "very small and nascent," with "around a couple hundred" militants were present at the camps. When asked if the Libyan camps are a potential target for US forces, Rodriguez said: "No, not right now." (AFP, Dec. 4) In October, Libya's militant group Ansar al-Sharia declared an "Islamic emirate" in the eastern city of Derna and pledged allegiance to ISIS. A video posted showed a parade in Derna with militants holding ISIS flags and shouting pro-ISIS slogans. (Al Arabiya, Oct. 6) This now makes three international entities that have joined the ISIS franchise.
The US House of Representatives Intelligence Committee on Nov. 21 released a report (PDF) stating that the Obama administration properly responded to the 2012 attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya. The committee, which is led by Republicans, concluded that there was no failure of intelligence and no delay in sending a rescue team. In a statement by committee chairman Mike Rogers, he announced: