Posts Tagged ‘Mali’

The world has misread the Middle East nightmare and our war without borders

October 11, 2014

By
Sydney Morning Herald

He expected it. But when the call came mid-morning on Thursday, Nizam Mougherit froze – the caller was threatening to behead Ibrahim, the 35-year-old’s younger brother who serves in the Lebanese Army.

Since early August, the so-called Islamic State and the al-Qaeda affiliated al-Nusra Front, two of the strongest forces in the civil and sectarian war tearing Syria and Iraq apart, have been taunting the families of 37 cops and soldiers who were captured as the Islamists overran Arsal – a small town high in the wild mountain country that serves as Lebanon’s border with Syria, and a little more than 120 kilometres north-east of the capital.

“I felt like I was having a nervous breakdown,” Nizam told me of a chilling exchange with a male who identified himself as an IS operative and who then proceeded to lecture Nizam on the need for the families to put more effort into daily protests, at which they’ve been pushing for the Beirut government to comply with the jihadis’ demands for a prisoner swap – freedom for Ibrahim and his military and police colleagues, in return for the release of as many as 100 Islamist militiamen locked down in Lebanon’s notorious Roumieh Prison.

The families of captured Lebanese men, Darin Abu Kalfoni (left) holding a photo of her brother Nahi Abu Kalfoni, a soldier, and Hayfa Jaber holding a photo of her husband Maymoun Jaber.The families of captured Lebanese men, Darin Abu Kalfoni (left) holding a photo of her brother Nahi Abu Kalfoni, a soldier, and Hayfa Jaber holding a photo of her husband Maymoun Jaber. Photo: Kate Geraghty

“We need to do a deal fast,” the man from IS told him. “You have 48 hours – or the remaining prisoners will be executed by beheading.” There’s a Potemkin village feel to the tents erected on the pavement of Beirut’s Riad al-Solh Square, named for the country’s first post-independence prime minister – he was assassinated in 1952. But the families come out to protest because they were effectively ordered to do so by their kin’s captors – so there’s just a few slabs of bottled water and none of the musty, dug-in permanence that characterised the encampments of the global Occupy movement or of Ukraine’s Maidan protests.

 

All involved here are Lebanese, not Western, which might explain why the plight of the dozens of prisoners and their families has failed to punch through as an international news story. But the threat is real – two of the hostages already have been beheaded and a third was gunned down, according to Islamic State’s social media postings.

A Qatari government official is mediating between the Beirut government and the Sunni fighters who have retreated into the mountains behind Arsal – but so far, no deal. And a few hours before Nizam Mougherit’s phone exchange on the urgency of beheadings, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon weighed in, expressing “grave concern” over what appears to be the Syria-based fundamentalist militias’ probing the defences in Lebanon’s border region, which are controlled by the Lebanese Shiite militia and political party, Hezbollah.

Conflict spreads: Lebanese police guard the area surrounding the Parliament in Beirut.Conflict spreads: Lebanese police guard the area surrounding the Parliament in Beirut. Photo: Kate Geraghty

Sit in the square with the families – sisters and wives, cousins and uncles milling with framed or banner-sized portraits of the captives – and it seems that the crisis roiling the Middle East is being miscast. As governments around the world opt in or out of the reluctant warrior Obama’s coalition, the focus stays narrowly on the fighting in Syria and Iraq and keeping both countries as the post-Ottoman Western constructs that they are.

It all seems to miss the point that this already is a regional, if not global conflict, in which the stakes are much higher than who turns on and off the lights in Damascus and Baghdad.

This is not just about skirmishing spilling over borders into Turkey and Lebanon, but about the direct involvement of forces and funders, policymakers and provocateurs from right across the region, seeking to direct the course of the violence to pursue outcomes in Syria and Iraq, but also in pursuit of bigger but tangential regional agendas.

Kidnappings continue: Families of missing Lebanese who were kidnapped by Islamic State militants and the Al-Nusra Front protest for their release in Beirut, Lebanon. Kidnappings continue: Families of missing Lebanese who were kidnapped by Islamic State militants and the Al-Nusra Front protest for their release in Beirut, Lebanon. Photo: AP

Beyond Lebanon, it has gone virtually unnoticed that two beheadings have been carried out and many more are threatened; and that a diplomat from Qatar is attempting to defuse a situation that gives Ban Ki-moon sleepless nights. The Saudis, who are Sunnis, are pumping $US1 billion ($1.1 billion) worth of French-supplied weapons into Lebanon; and right behind them are the Shiite Iranians, promising their own, separate weapons consignment for Beirut – value not disclosed.

Yet these little bits are parts of a dreadful whole, the complexities and dangers of which seem not to have been grasped around the world. The gifts of weapons from Riyadh and Tehran are just part of a slew of current arms deals in the region, estimated to be worth more than $US50 billion. And while all those weapons, no doubt, will help grow an already huge refugee crisis in the region, a UN appeal for $US1.7 billion to help the refugees, has received pledges for just 36 per cent of that target since it was launched late last year.

It’s all done with such naiveté and Boys’ Own enthusiasm, that you wonder if our leaders obsess about military options alone, because to kick butt is easier than all the other stuff that could be done.

Closing in: Islamic State militants stand next to an IS flag above Kobane.Closing in: Islamic State militants stand next to an IS flag above Kobane. Photo: AFP

More than a decade after the 9/11 attacks and an al-Qaeda-induced realisation that US intelligence services had nodded off on the Middle East, Nathan Brown of the Carnegie Endowment credits the Obama administration with rightly sensing that apart from the military, there are ideological and religious dimensions to this conflict.

But then Professor Brown writes: “They are, however, particularly ill-equipped to understand, much less participate in, the non-military aspects of the struggle. And the consequences may not only be misunderstanding it, but more troubling, a return to the pattern of opportunistic alignments with autocrats that served US policy well in the short term, [but] at tremendous long-term cost.”

While all effort now goes into military attempts to solve a conflict for which all, from Obama down, admit that there is no military solution, a grim warning was issued in July by the UN negotiator who spent two years in search of a political solution to the crisis triggered in Syria by the last of the Arab Spring uprisings in the region.

“There is a serious risk that the entire region will blow up,” Lakhdar Brahimi warned in an interview with Der Spiegel magazine, in which he predicted dire consequences for Syria, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon. “The conflict is not going to stay inside Syria. It will spill over into the region. It’s already destabilising Lebanon [where there are] 1.5 million refugees – that represents one-third of the population – if it were Germany, it would be the equivalent of 20 million people.”

Analysing the global misreading of how events might unfold in Syria, Brahimi harped back to an earlier assignment in his career: “It reminds me a lot of 1999 – then, I resigned from my first assignment as a UN special envoy to Afghanistan, because the UN Security Council had no interest in Afghanistan, a small country, poor, far away. I said one day it’s going to blow up in your faces – it did [and] Syria is much worse.”

And as for the notion implicit in the rhetoric of Obama and his coalition cheerleaders, that Syria somehow is to be rescued by and into the civilised world, Brahimi thinks otherwise – “It will become another Somalia. It will not be divided, as many have predicted. It’s going to be a failed state, with warlords all over the place.” And to the extent that there is a military solution – Washington and Canberra and the rest say that they will retrain the Iraqi military, on which the US already has spent hundreds of billions and lost thousands of its own troops in the process; and set up shoestring budget camps in Saudi Arabia to train ‘vetted moderate’ Syrian rebels to fight IS and the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

All of which prompted a gem of self-contradiction this week by Obama spokesman Josh Earnest: “Our strategy [in Syria] is reliant on something that is not yet in place…” But with intelligence agencies warning that as many as 6000 volunteers have flocked to IS training camps since the start of the US-led bombing in Iraq in August, other experts predict that if they continue to bomb the forces and facilities of the Nusra Front, which is al-Qaeda affiliated but opposed to IS, it would drive many Syrian Sunnis, and probably Iraqis too, to fight against the US and its allies.

Despite the coalition hype, it will be years before the Iraqi military or the Syrian rebels become effective fighting forces, and if past conflicts are a guide, only months will have passed before we are hearing complaints that there are no targets for air strikes. So who’ll provide boots on the ground if there’s to be any hope of capitalising on air strikes over Syria and Iraq in the short-term and holding territory in the medium-term?

As it is, a good few of Obama’s Western allies are refusing to do air strikes in Syria and all are refusing to send troops to Syria. At the same time, news reports suggest that the US is doing the lion’s share of the current air strikes – despite several of the Gulf monarchs sending some of their air fleets.

But what about the Arab armies – why have they not been dispatched?

Those of us who were in the combined coalition columns as the first President Bush’s coalition forces rolled across the desert to liberate Kuwait in 1991, still chortle at the Saudi officer class, a good number of whom drove their own luxury SUVs to war, because they would not deign to ride in military machines.

With so much at stake in the region, perhaps one of the more disturbing aspects of the conflict as it shapes up, is the likelihood that the coalition will hew to the agenda of one of the myriad parties involved, at the expense of coalition unity and cohesion. Another is the inevitability that crisis momentum demands mission creep; or worse, that human error or mischief making could knock the whole venture off its axis.

What might be this crisis’ Franz Ferdinand moment? Recall that the archduke’s assassination in Sarajevo in 1914 precipitated World War I, the aftermath of which was so ruinous for the Middle East.

When I posed this question to the Beirut-based analyst Toufik Shouman, he responded: “We’re practically in a World War III moment now, but it’s controlled geographically and militarily…and what prevents the world from being dragged into a major global conflict is the [agenda differences] in the coalition that prevent agreement on the way forward, but you can’t rule out the Franz Ferdinand moment.”

Shouman ticked off the likely targets, if IS was to opt to take the fight beyond Syria and Iraq – the list of embassies, consulates and businesses representing the coalition countries would be long. He concluded: “… and IS claims that it is ready to attack targets in the US itself.”

Dr Anthony Cordesman, of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, rebukes the US in a paper he published on Thursday. On the great difficulty of implementing coalition-based strategy, he writes: “This is particularly true when the US fails to honestly address its own problems and mistakes, minimises the costs and risks involved, and exaggerates criticism of its allies.”

Acknowledging the risk of mission creep, he said in a phone interview: “But you have to understand that there will be immense pushback against any effort to escalate – the US and its allies will try to control the mission to do what was originally described.”

But ask him about that Franz Ferdinand moment and suggestions pour out of him. Syria could shoot down a Turkish aircraft; the humanitarian dimension could be messed up; human displacement – “you can surely count on people to not understand that intervening to deal with a few thousand people can displace hundreds of thousands”; if IS advanced to a position from which it “threatened all of Iraq”; Iraq’s Sunnis could refuse to co-operate with the new Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad; if violence broke out between Turkey and its Kurdish minority and Iraq’s Kurds attempted to join in; if the Assad government in Syria was to step up its bombing of rebel forces “it could become a political problem too big to ignore”; and lastly, if IS was to lash out with a campaign of terrorist attacks that would provoke demands to escalate the coalition campaign.

“Fully agreeing” with the idea that the conflict has been miscast as war in two countries, rather than as a regional or even bigger conflict, veteran White House adviser and CIA analyst Bruce Riedel’s response to questions was a dire email in which he posits the current crisis in a seriously global framework.

“Al Qaedaism, the ideology, is stronger today than ever, thanks to the failure of the Arab spring and the battlefield has expanded from Mali to Pakistan and beyond to Australia and Europe,” he writes.

“The worst nightmare for me is a terror attack that provokes Indo-Pakistan war; second, is a Mumbai-like attack in a Western city.”

Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/world/the-world-has-misread-the-middle-east-nightmare-and-our-war-without-borders-20141010-1143jt.html#ixzz3FpcXSmcY

Pentagon expands operations in Africa

September 2, 2014

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Al Shabaab soldiers sit outside a building during patrol along the streets of Dayniile district in Southern Mogadishu, March 5, 2012. REUTERS/Feisal Omar

By
The Washington Post

The Pentagon is preparing to open a drone base in one of the remotest places on Earth: an ancient caravan crossroads in the middle of the Sahara.

After months of negotiations, the government of Niger, a landlocked West African nation, has authorized the U.S. military to fly unarmed drones from the mud-walled desert city of Agadez, according to Nigerien and U.S. officials.

The previously undisclosed decision gives the Pentagon another surveillance hub — its second in Niger and third in the region — to track Islamist fighters who have destabilized parts of North and West Africa. It also advances a little-publicized U.S. strategy to tackle counterterrorism threats alongside France, the former colonial power in that part of the continent.

Although the two allies have a sporadic history of quarreling when it comes to military action, U.S. and French troops have been working hand in glove as they steadily expand their presence in impoverished West Africa. Both countries are alarmed by the presence of jihadist groups, some affiliated with al-Qaeda, that have taken root in states whose governments are unable to exert control over their own territory.

In Niamey, Niger’s capital, U.S. and French forces set up neighboring drone hangars last year to conduct reconnaissance flights over Mali, where about 1,200 French soldiers are trying to suppress a revolt that erupted in 2012.

A drone sits at a French army base in Niamey, Niger. France and the United States have ramped up their cooperation in Africa to counter terrorist threats. (Martin Bureau/AFP/Getty Images)

In Chad, the U.S. Air Force has been flying drones and other aircraft from a French military base to search for hundreds of schoolgirls abducted by Islamic militants in northern Nigeria.

The White House approved $10 million in emergency aid on Aug. 11 to help airlift French troops and provide midair refueling for French aircraft deployed to West Africa. Analysts said the monetary sum was less important than what it symbolized: U.S. endorsement of a new French plan to deploy 3,000 troops across the region.

“We have this confluence of interests where both countries are working much more closely than would have been thought possible just a couple of years ago,” said J. Peter Pham, an expert on African security at the Atlantic Council, a Washington think tank.

The cooperation is a turnabout from early 2013, when France deployed troops to northern Mali to try to prevent the country from breaking apart. The Obama administration was slow to respond to requests to provide crucial logistical support to French troops, a reflection of how the two countries have sometimes worked at cross-purposes on security policy.

France is protective of its economic and political interests in West Africa. Yet in 2008 it shrank its military presence on the continent and instead opened a base in the Persian Gulf, an area that the U.S. military sees as its sphere of influence. Around the same time, the Pentagon created an Africa Command and expanded its training partnerships with French-speaking countries on the continent, to the annoyance of some officials in Paris.

In July, however, French President François Hollande announced that his country would again bulk up its forces in West Africa. Under Operation Barkhane (a term for a crescent-shaped sand dune), France will permanently deploy 3,000 troops at bases in Mali, Chad, Niger and Burkina Faso.

French leaders consulted closely with U.S. officials before the operation. Pentagon officials said they were happy to let France take the lead on the ground, enabling the U.S. Air Force to focus on drone flights and other airborne missions that it is better equipped to handle.

“They have a similar strategy and aim about what they are doing,” said Sarah Covington, a sub-Saharan Africa analyst at IHS Country Risk, based in London. “The French have been in that region for decades now and have an extremely strong presence.”

The new base in Agadez will put U.S. drones closer to a desert corridor connecting northern Mali and southern Libya that is a key route for arms traffickers, drug smugglers and Islamist fighters migrating across the Sahara.

The city was once a magnet for ad­ven­ture tourists from Europe seeking a taste of nomad culture. But rebellions by Tuareg tribesmen in recent years and an influx of Islamists have made it a more dangerous place.

In a written response to questions, Benjamin A. Benson, a spokesman for Africa Command, called Agadez “an attractive option” for a base, “given its proximity to the threats in the region.”

In February, records show, the Pentagon’s Defense Logistics Agency solicited bids for the delivery of more than 7 million gallons of jet and diesel fuel to Agadez later this year. In July, the Air Force posted a separate solicitation to upgrade the Agadez airport runway, a project estimated to cost between $5 million and $10 million. Documents cautioned that the project was still awaiting authorization from the government of Niger.

The next month, Mahamadou Issoufou, the president of Niger, traveled to Washington to attend the Obama administration’s U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit. On Aug. 7, the day after the summit, Issoufou gave final approval to the Agadez drone base during a meeting with Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work; Army Gen. David Rodriguez, the leader of Africa Command; and several other participants, according to Nigerien and U.S. officials.

Benson, the Africa Command spokesman, declined to say how many drones or U.S. military personnel will be deployed to Agadez, saying the operation is still in the planning stages.

The Pentagon continues to broaden its drone operations in Africa, despite growing demand for the aircraft in other conflict zones.

Since June, surveillance drones have been redeployed from bases in the Middle East to fly dozens of sorties a day over Iraq. The aircraft are also sorely needed in Afghanistan as the U.S. military draws down its forces there, as well as for counterterrorism missions in Yemen and Somalia.

The Pentagon also keeps watch over northern Libya with Predator drones that cross the Mediterranean from a U.S. base in Sicily, Italy.

The U.S. military would like to increase its reconnaissance flights over Libya, where Islamist factions and tribal militias have shattered the country. Having a drone base in Agadez will make it easier to reach the vast desert terrain in southern Libya, where many itinerant Islamist fighters have regrouped after being expelled from Mali, according to security analysts.

It is unclear whether the Pentagon will continue to operate drones from Niamey, the capital, about 500 miles southwest of Agadez, though some officials said it was unlikely. About 120 U.S. troops are deployed there at a Nigerien military base adjacent to the international airport.

French forces keep their own, small drone fleet in nearby hangars. It consists of two U.S.-built Reaper aircraft, purchased last year, and an older-model Harfang drone.

In contrast to the U.S. military, which is secretive about its drone operations, the French have been eager to show off their spy aircraft. When Hollande visited Niamey in July to tout Operation Barkhane, news photographers were permitted inside the French drone hangar.

Craig Whitlock covers the Pentagon and national security. He has reported for The Washington Post since 1998.

Islamic extremism to blame as Christian deaths nearly double in a year – report

January 9, 2014

A partial view shot on November 30, 2013 shows icons and overturned funiture on the ground at the chruch of Saint Michael in the Syrian village of Qara.(AFP Photo / Ali Malek)

A partial view shot on November 30, 2013 shows icons and overturned furniture on the ground at the church of Saint Michael in the Syrian village of Qara.(AFP Photo / Ali Malek)

At least 2,100 Christians because of their beliefs in 2013 according to a group monitoring persecution of Christians worldwide. Most of the dead were in Syria, where radical Islamist groups have clamped down on a long-established religious minority.

Open Doors, a US-based non-denominational group that first formed  in the 1950s smuggling Bibles into Communist Eastern Europe,  conducts an annual survey of 50 countries where Christians suffer  the worst discrimination.

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Overwhelmingly, the main engine driving persecution of  Christians in 36 of the top 50 countries is Islamic  extremism,” write the authors.

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North Korea, which is officially atheist but is dominated by the  Kims’ personality cult, and where merely owning a Bible is  reportedly grounds enough for a life sentence or execution,  remains the worst country in the world for Christians.

.Open Doors  claims that as many as 70,000 believers are in North Korean labor  camps and prisons.

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But the rest of the top five is made up of Muslim states  suffering from internal instability, with Somalia, Syria, Iraq  and Afghanistan all earning a place.

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Of these, the situation has worsened “least surprisingly” in  Syria, which had a Christian population of more than 1.7 million  prior to the start of the internal conflict nearly three years  ago.
The Syrian opposition is increasingly ‘Islamizing’, and  Christians are becoming more vulnerable in all spheres of life.  Many Christians were reported to have been abducted, physically  harmed or killed, and many churches damaged or destroyed,”   write the authors.
The situation has deteriorated fundamentally since professional  foreign jihadists, such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant  (ISIL), joined the fray.

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The most notable recent attacks have been on centuries-old  Aramaic-speaking communities, such as Maaloula and Sadad.

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Open Doors, which says that it uses conservative estimates  sourced from the news media and believers on the ground, claims  that at a “minimal count”, 1,213 Christians were   “martyred” in the country last year. The figure is  higher than the world total for 2012.

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Nigeria, which has a roughly equal split between Christians and  Muslims, is next on the list with 612 deaths, mostly at the hands  of newly-active militias in the north, such as Boko Haram, which  frequently bombs Christian schools and churches.

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In Somalia, “retreating al-Shabaab rebels vent their anger by  imposing an even more restrictive form of Sharia law” and  while the Christian minority is small, anyone who is found out to  follow the faith risks execution.

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Open Doors predicts that Central African Republic, which erupted  into a civil war at the end of last year, could be the hotspot to  watch out for in 2014.

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The country has been torn apart by warlords and especially  foreign mercenaries from Chad and Sudan who target Christians for  rape, robbery and murder,” write the authors.

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“Like Mali last year, Central African Republic shows how  rapidly a seemingly stable state can disintegrate and a Christian  minority or even majority can come to the brink of  extinction.”

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The report is from Open Doors

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Christian martyrdoms doubled in 2013, reports World Watch List in revealing its methodology for the first time.

Katherine Burgess
[ posted 1/8/2014 11:41AM ]
Aiming for 'Effective Anger': The Top 50 Countries Where It's Hardest To Be a Christian

Courtesy of Open Doors

Twice as many Christians were killed for their faith in 2013 as in 2012, according to the latest report on the world’s top 50 violators of Christian religious freedom.

However, the 2014 World Watch List (see full list below) from Open Doors International—which notes the increased impact of “failed states” and reveals its methodology for the first time—calculates a far lower total for Christian martyrdoms than recent estimates by other groups.

The top 10 nations “where Christians faced the most pressure and violence,” according to the WWL, were North Korea, Somalia, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Maldives, Pakistan, Iran. and Yemen. While North Korea has topped the list for 12 straight years, this is the first time that a sub-Saharan African country took the No. 2 slot.

“Overall, the 2014 list determines that pressure on Christians increased in 34 countries, decreased in five, and remained about the same in the remaining 14,” reports World Watch Monitor. The level of persecution “increased seriously” in eight countries: Syria, Iraq, Pakistan, Sudan, Libya, Egypt, Colombia, and Kazakhstan. By contrast, it “decreased considerably” in two countries: Mali and Tanzania.

The list’s biggest debut: the Central African Republic (CAR), where strife between Muslims and Christians has displaced 1 million people and threatens to spread beyond the country’s borders, the United Nations recently warned.

“Like Mali last year, CAR shows how rapidly a seemingly stable state can disintegrate and a Christian minority or even majority can come to the brink of extinction,” said Open Doors in its press release. The CAR surged from being unranked to No. 16, much as Mali surged from unranked to No. 7 last year. (Mali has now fallen to No. 33.)

When only incidents of violence—including murders, rapes, kidnappings and church burnings—are assessed, the CAR ranks No. 1 worldwide, followed by Syria (though it produced far more martyrs). Rounding out this top 10: Pakistan, Egypt, Iraq, Myanmar, Nigeria, Colombia, Eritrea and Sudan. (The WWL’s overall rankings include both physical violence and other pressures against Christians, and Open Doors notes that violence is not the most prevalent form of religious persecution.)

The rapid rise of the CAR illustrated an increase of persecution in “failed states,” according to Open Doors. Six of the WWL’s top 10 countries—Somalia, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen—fit the organization’s definition of a failed state: “a weak state where social and political structures have collapsed to the point where government has little or no control.”

The report showed “the importance of a stable state as a guardian of religious liberty,” said Ronald Boyd-MacMillan, chief strategy officer who oversees the WWL, in an interview released by the organization.

The rankings continued last year’s trends of increased persecution in African nations and by Islamist extremism, which drove persecution in 36 of the 50 WWL countries, according to the new report.

Sri Lanka (No. 29) and Bangladesh (No. 48) also joined the 2014 list, while Azerbaijan, Uganda, and Kyrgyzstan dropped off entirely. Tanzania dropped significantly from No. 24 to No. 49, while Colombia climbed from No. 46 to No. 25.

The report calculates a total of 2,123 Christians were martyred in 2013, roughly twice the number in 2012. Syria and Nigeria led with 1,213 and 612 martyrs, respectively, followed by Pakistan (88), Egypt (83), Angola (16), Niger (15), Iraq (11), the CAR (9), and Colombia (8).

The difficult practice of measuring Christian martyrdoms worldwide drew scrutiny this year. Estimates range from 1,000 to 100,000. World Watch Monitor explains why the WWL count is so low.

In determining the degree of persecution, the report’s methodology separately assesses governmental and societal persecution. A groundbreaking 2009 report by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life found a high correlation between social hostilities and government restrictions. CT charted the comparisons between the Pew list and the WWL.

Open Doors claims the WWL is “the only annual survey of religious liberty conditions of Christians around the world,” and explains:

[The WWL] measures the degree of freedom Christian have to live out their faith in five spheres of life – private, family, community, national and church life, plus a sixth sphere measuring the degree of violence. The methodology counts each sphere equally and is designed specifically to track the deep structures of persecution, and not merely incidents.

For the first time, Open Doors has published the methodology of the report, also having it independently audited by the International Institute for Religious Freedom, which praised the study.

“Above all, we want others to join in and help improve our standards and catalyze more study of the Persecuted Church, so that the sum of our knowledge will increase,” Boyd-MacMillan said.

The purpose of the report is to “create effective anger,” leading people to pray and act on behalf of persecuted Christians, he said. “It creates awareness and it requires a strategic response. And great research is the only way that effective anger can be produced.”

Brian Grim, a senior religion researcher at the Pew Research Center, told World Watch Monitor the good news behind such reports:

Reports like the World Watch List, and those we produce at Pew Research Center, stimulate discussion and action among groups such as the United Nations, the European Parliament and the U.S. Congress. In 2011 alone, the sources used in the latest Pew Research study reported that 76 percent of countries had government or societal initiatives to reduce religious restrictions or hostilities.

CT reported on the WWL rankings in 2009, 2012, and 2013, including a spotlight on where it’s hardest to believe. CT also noted how the State Department and USCIRF disagree on which countries deserves censure for mistreating religious minorities, as well as how, ironically, many nations on the WWL are bad for Christians but good for distributing Bibles.

Here is a summary of the 2014 World Watch List and how countries changed rank from 2013. Descriptions of persecution in all 50 countries can be found here.

Christians 'face extinction' amid sectarian terror, minister warns

Pakistani Christians protest against the suicide bombing in All Saints church in the northwestern city of Peshawar in September Photo: A MAJEED/AFP
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Vietnam Christians protest government persecution

Vietnam Christians protest government persecution

St. Mary Church in Fayoum attacked, looted

St. Mary Church in Fayoum, Egypt attacked and looted last August

7 DW:M Smyank

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People gather at the site of suicide attack on a church in Peshawar, Pakistan, Sunday, Sept. 22, 2013. A suicide bomb attack on a historic church in northwestern Pakistan killed scores of people Sunday, officials said, in one of the worst assaults on the country’s Christian minority in years. (AP Photo/Mohammad Sajjad) AP

Mali separatist group declares end to ceasefire

November 29, 2013

(Reuters) – Mali’s MNLA Tuareg separatist group said on Friday it was ending a ceasefire agreed with the government in June and taking up arms following violence in the northern city of Kidal.

The declaration follows a series of incidents including clashes on Thursday between Malian troops and stone-throwing protesters who blocked a visit by the prime minister to the northern rebel stronghold of Kidal on Thursday. Several demonstrators were wounded but there were conflicting accounts of how they came about their injuries.

“The political and military wings of the Azawad (MNLA, MAA and HCUA) declare the lifting of the ceasefire with the central government in Bamako,” said a statement by Attaye Ag Mohamed, one of the MNLA’s founders.

“All our military positions are on alert,” said the statement, which asked the international community to witness that the government was to blame for hostilities on Thursday.

The west African country is in the process of restoring democracy after a coup last year led to al Qaeda-linked Islamists taking control of the north.

A French-led military offensive routed the Islamists but tension remains between the central government and Tuareg separatists demanding an independent homeland they call Azawad. The two sides are due to open negotiations over the status of the restive desert region.

(Reporting by Adama Diarra; Writing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg;)

UN rules out swift peacekeeping deployment to Central African Republic

November 28, 2013

Deputy secretary general said that even with a speedy security council resolution it would take months to deploy a team

By Mark Tran
The Guardian

MDG : CAR : Central African Republic refugees

Refugees cook food in Bouca. The town is home to a Catholic mission that has been aiding refugees alongside  Médecins Sans Frontières. Photograph: Juan Carlos Tomasi/MSF/EPA

A UN peacekeeping force would take at least two or three months to deploy in the Central African Republic (CAR) even if there was a speedy UN security council resolution, Jan Eliasson, the UN deputy secretary general said on Wednesday.

The chronically unstable and landlocked country has plunged into chaos in recent months after a coalition of rebels overthrew the government in March. Eliasson, who was attending an EU development conference in Brussels, said the brutality and sectarian violence in the worsening crisis, could degenerate into widespread atrocities.

Given the time it would take to send peacekeepers, the UN is banking on a quick deployment of troops by France, the former colonial power, to restore some semblance of order as they did in Mali when Tuareg and jihadist rebels threatened to advance on the capital Bamako.

French officials this week expressed readiness to reinforce the 400 troops already in the capital Bangui. “France has already indicated sending 800 more troops to bring its total to 1,200, that will improve security,” said a veteran UN diplomat.

The world has paid little heed to the deteriorating situation in CAR, despite warnings from humanitarian organisations. But  reports of the savagery inflicted upon civilians is making the crisis increasingly difficult to ignore. Since seizing power, Seleka rebels have been accused by human rights groups of committing abuses including killings, rapes and conscription of child soldiers.

“It is a hugely critical situation. On Monday, I made one of my most dramatic reports to the [UN security] council,” Eliasson said. “It was not an early warning, it was a late warning.”

The violence in the mineral-rich but impoverished country has turned increasingly communal, pitting the mainly Muslim Seleka rebels against Christian militias. The French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, warned this week that if CAR imploded as a result of a power vacuum, instability could threaten all the countries in the region. These include Chad, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Cameroon.

The UN is counting on France acting as an effective stop-gap measure until an African Union force is deployed but it is unclear how quickly such a contingent is deployed amid questions over funding. There are 2,500 African regional peacekeeping troops in CAR. This is due to be increased to 3,600 by January. But they are stretched thin and struggling to maintain order in a land mass bigger than France where villages are often inaccessible by road.

Eliasson stressed the need for humanitarian workers to have access to those in need. “What we need are eyes and ears on the ground so they can have a calming influence,” he said.

In his report to the council on Monday, Eliasson said virtually the entire population of 4.6 million people was enduring “suffering beyond imagination”, and a third of the people are in dire need of food, healthcare, sanitation and shelter”.

Ban ki-Moon, the UN secretary general, last week presented the council options for supporting the AU-led operation financially and logistically, as well as the option of transforming it into a UN peacekeeping operation. Ban said he would back a UN force with nearly 11,000 soldiers and police if the crisis worsens.

France Sends 1,000 Troops to Central African Republic

November 26, 2013

PARIS (AP) – France will send 1,000 troops to Central African Republic under an expected U.N.-backed mission to keep growing chaos at bay, the defense minister said Tuesday – boosting the French military presence in Africa for the second time this year.

Jean-Yves Le Drian made the announcement a day after a top U.N. official warned of mass atrocities and possible civil war in CAR, one of the world’s poorest countries, which has been in turmoil since rebel groups joined forces in March and overthrew the president. The rebels have been accused by rights groups of committing scores of atrocities including killings, rapes and conscription of child soldiers. France’s top diplomat said last week the country was “on the verge of genocide.”

“It’s in collapse and we cannot have a country fall apart like that. There is the violence, massacres and humanitarian chaos that follow a collapse,” Le Drian told Europe 1 radio. “It will be a short mission to allow calm and stability to return.”

French soldiers pictured on patrol in Bangui on October 23, 2013, are to receive reinforcements under a new agreement between France and the Central African Republic (AFP/File, Pacome Pabandji)

In Mali, France has about 2,800 troops taking part in an operation that began after rebels and al-Qaida-linked militants moved to take over the capital last winter.

Le Drian dismissed any comparisons between the Mali and CAR missions.

“In Mali there was an attack of jihadists, terrorists who wanted to transform Mali into a terrorist state. This is a collapse of a country with a potential for religious clashes,” he said. “France has international responsibilities, is a permanent member of the Security Council, has history with Central African Republic, and the United Nations is asking us to do it.”

France already has some 420 soldiers in Central African Republic – mostly to protect the airport in the capital Bangui. The country has asked France to increase that force and French diplomats have announced plans to circulate a draft Security Council resolution that will call for additional support for the 3,000-strong force led by the African Union now in the country.

A French defense official, who was not authorized to speak publicly about the mission, said the U.N. mandate would authorize French troops to end the massacres and restore order throughout the country.

France hopes that a resolution will be passed before the start of a summit in Paris next week focusing on security issues in Africa, French diplomats have said.

The expanded French deployment would happen after that. France would accompany an African force of troops from neighboring countries, and the French mission would be expected to last about six months, Le Drian said.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius last week said Central African Republic is “on the verge of genocide.”

“It’s total disorder. You have seven surgeons for a population of 5 million, an infant mortality rate of 25 percent in some areas and 1.5 million people who have nothing, not even food, and armed gangs, bandits, etc,” he told  France 2 television Thursday.

A French soldier explains to Vietnamese (er, Malian) children why he thinks he is in their country

A French soldier talks to  Malian children

At the United Nations on Monday, French ambassador Gerard Araud said an increased French deployment would be “a bridging force” until an African force is fully operational – when France would take a back-up role.

France, a former colonial powerhouse in West Africa, has a greater military presence in the region than any other Western country – with thousands of troops in places including Senegal, Chad, Ivory Coast and Gabon.

In a briefing Monday to the Security Council, U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson said the situation in CAR was deteriorating so fast that a U.N. peacekeeping force may soon be the only option.

He said the country is becoming “a breeding ground for extremists and armed groups” and never-before-seen sectarian violence between Muslims and Christians.

Associated Press writer Jamey Keaten contributed to this report.

Follow Lori Hinnant: https://twitter.com/lhinnant

Eds: Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations, and Jamey Keaten and Sylvie Corbet in Paris contributed to this report.

Kenya attack: Army defuses bombs as dozens more feared dead, Some terrorists “holding out” — Maybe 50 more dead — British woman helped terrorists?

September 24, 2013

By Richard Lough and Duncan Miriri

NAIROBI |          Tue Sep 24, 2013 8:14am EDT

NAIROBI (Reuters) – Somalia’s al Shabaab Islamist group said on Tuesday its militants were still holed up in a Kenyan shopping mall they attacked at the weekend and there were “countless dead bodies”, raising fears the death toll could be higher than 62.

Kenyan security forces were searching for the al Qaeda-linked attackers who are believed by Western sources to include Americans and possibly a British woman who may be the widow of a suicide bomber who took part in an attack in London in 2005. Al Shabaab rejected suggestions that foreigners were involved.

Sporadic bursts of gunfire and an explosion marked the fourth day since the militants stormed into the Westgate center in Nairobi during a busy Saturday lunchtime, spraying bullets and lobbing grenades.

Helicopters buzzed over the complex, which is popular with foreigners and prosperous Kenyans. Al Shabaab says it launched the attack in pursuit of demands that Kenya withdraw troops from Somalia, where they have battled the Islamist group. President Uhuru Kenyatta has vowed to stay the course there.

The attack has come at a time when several violent Islamist groups from Mali to Algeria, Nigeria to Kenya – tapping into local grievances but all espousing an anti-Western, anti-Christian creed – are striking at state authority and international interests.

“There are still gunmen in the building,” said an intelligence officer, who asked not to be named, speaking near the mall, which is surrounded by troops. Asked if there were still hostages, he said: “We are not sure yet.”

As Kenyan authorities asserted that the end of the siege was “very near”, al Shabaab said its militants were still holding out in the Westgate center and their hostages were still alive.

“There are countless number of dead bodies still scattered inside the mall, and the Mujahideen (fighters) are still holding their ground #Westgate,” the group said on its Twitter feed.

HOSTAGES ALIVE

“The hostages who were being held by the Mujahideen inside #Westgate are still alive, looking quite disconcerted but, nevertheless, alive.”

It described its fighters as “unruffled and strolling around the mall in such sangfroid manner”.

People who earlier helped remove bodies from the mall said they believed there were still many lying there yet to be removed, suggesting that the death toll could rise.

The Kenyan military said its forces were carrying out “mop up operations” in the building.

The Interior Ministry earlier said security forces were in control of the mall and that all the hostages had been released.

A trickle of survivors left on Monday, but the fate of those still missing was unclear. It was also unclear how many of the militants had been killed or captured.

The government said on Monday three had died and a television report on Tuesday said “six of the remaining attackers” were killed. There has been no clear official tally.

An army spokesman said 11 soldiers had been admitted to hospital, and of that number three had died.

Images from closed-circuit television inside the mall during the attack, published in a Kenyan newspaper on Tuesday, showed two militants, casually dressed and wearing ammunition belts. One held an assault rifle. Al Shabaab confirmed that the two men were part of the group that attacked Westgate.

Kenyan Foreign Minister Amina Mohamed told the U.S. PBS Newshour television show that “two or three Americans” and a British woman were among the militants.

She said the Americans were “young men, about between maybe 18 and 19″ years old. She said they were of Somali or Arab origin and had lived in “in Minnesota and one other place”.

Al Shabaab, which said it had been in communication with its members in the mall, dismissed the minister’s comments.

“Those who describe the attackers as Americans and British are people who do not know what is going on in Westgate building,” al Shabaab’s media office told Reuters.

“WHITE WIDOW?”

A British security source said it was possible that Samantha Lewthwaite, the widow of Germaine Lindsay, one of the suicide bombers who killed more than 50 people on London’s transport system in 2005, was involved in the Nairobi siege.

When asked about reports that Lewthwaite, dubbed the “white widow” by the British media, was directly involved in the attack in Kenya, the source said: “It is a possibility. But nothing definitive or conclusive yet.”

Lewthwaite is thought to have left Britain several years ago and is wanted in connection with an alleged plot to attack hotels and restaurants in Kenya.

U.S. security sources said they were looking into information from Kenya that residents of Western countries, including the United States, may have been among the militants.

U.S. President Barack Obama, whose father was born in the east African nation, offered help, saying he believed Kenya – the scene of one of al Qaeda’s first major attacks, in 1998, and a neighbor of chaotic Somalia – would continue to be a regional pillar of stability.

Kenyan officials have tried to reassure the country that they are in command of the situation. Officials said there would be a news briefing on the situation later on Tuesday.

“We continue to appeal for calm, keep vigil and avoid Westgate area,” the Ministry of Interior said on its Twitter account.

The attack on the mall is the worst such incident in Kenya since al Qaeda killed more than 200 people when it bombed the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi in 1998.

When fighters from its Somali ideological counterpart stormed the mall on Saturday, they hit a high-profile symbol of Kenya’s economic power.

Kenya has sent troops to Somalia as part of an African Union force trying to stabilize the country, which was long without a functioning government, and push back al Shabaab.

It has also suffered internal instability. President Kenyatta, who lost a nephew in the weekend bloodbath, faces charges of crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court for his alleged role in coordinating violence after disputed elections in 2007. He denies the charges.

British Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said he believed six Britons had died in the attack. Other known foreign victims are from China, Ghana, France, the Netherlands and Canada. Kenyan officials said the total death toll was at least 62.

Conflicting comments have fuelled speculation about the attackers’ identity. While the foreign minister said there was a woman attacker killed, Interior Minister Joseph Ole Lenku had said on Monday they were all men but some had dressed as women.

(Reporting by James Macharia, Edmund Blair, Duncan Miriri, Matthew Mpoke Bigg and Richard Lough; Pascal Fletcher in Johannesburg; and Steve Holland in New York; Writing by Edmund Blair and James Macharia; Editing by Giles Elgood and Will Waterman)

************************

Is this “The White Widow”?

Kenyan troops battle Islamists making their final stand in a deadly shopping mall siege, on the fourth day of the attack by Al-Shabaab militants said to include Americans and a British woman.

Video:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews
/africaandindianocean/kenya/10326548/Nair
obi-shopping-mall-attack-live.html

15.00 AFP news agency has released this passport used by Lewthwaite to travel into South Africa. It is believed she used a forged passport with the name Natalie Faye Webb:

14.48 Kenya says 11 soldiers injured in Westgate operation and three have died.

14.08 Ravindra Ramrattan, a London School of Economics alumnus, is among the victims, according to the Trinidad Express.

Friend Josh Weinstein has written a tribute:

I found out yesterday that a friend was killed in the senseless, horrible attack in Nairobi. He was a great person and meant a lot to many people. He had a profound impact on so many people’s lives that I would not even begin to understand how to chronicle it all….

I met Ravi early on in my time in Nairobi. I remember thinking that this guy was exceptionally smart. Subsequently, I found out he had bachelors degree in mathematics from the University of Cambridge, a masters degree in financial economics from Oxford, and another masters in econometrics and mathematical economics from the London School of Economics.

After teaching statistics to graduate students at the London Business School for a year – at the tender age of 26 – he decided to move to Kenya to commit himself to the cause of poverty alleviation.

13.58 Our correspodnent Aislinn Laing says she has just spoken to a police officer at the City Morgue who says they’ve been told to expect 50 more bodies from the mall.

13.25 This video appears to show a fire blazing at the mall and a partially collapsed roof:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandi
ndianocean/kenya/10326548/Nairobi-shopping-mall-att
ack-live.html

al-Qaida: Have local affiliates have become stronger than central leadership?

August 7, 2013

By ARIEL BEN SOLOMON

The Jerusalem Post
Experts differ on leader Zawahiri’s degree of control, say local affiliates have become stronger than central leadership.

Veteran jihadist Mokhtar Belmokhtar

Veteran al-Qaida  jihadist Mokhtar Belmokhtar   Photo: REUTERS

A number of questions surround the shadowy events unfolding in Yemen over the  last couple of days, not least of which is this: Why would al-Qaida attack now?

One possible reason could be that the United States killed the second-in-command  of affiliate organization al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), Abu Sufyan  al-Azdi, in a drone strike in Yemen last year.

He was reportedly wounded  in the October 2012 strike and died a few months afterward.

Jihadists  recently called for revenge, and the terrorist organization’s affiliates in Iraq  and Somalia are expressing their anger over his killing, according to Site, a  jihadi monitoring website.

There could also be a connection with the  recent appointment of a Yemeni AQAP leader, Nasir al-Wuhayshi, as general  manager of al-Qaida, effectively making him the No. 2 man in the  organization.

Could the new threat be based on orders from al-Qaida  leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, who gave a speech that was posted on jihadi forums on  July 30, claiming that attacks on the US, including the recent Boston bombings,  were revenge for Muslims killed in US-led wars?

Zawahiri met bin Laden in the 1980s when both men joined the fight against the Soviet Union's occupation of Afghanistan

Ayman al-Zawahiri. Photo: REUTERS

“I call on every Muslim in every  spot on Earth to seek with all that he can to stop the crimes of America and its  allies against the Muslims in Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen and Mali and  everywhere….Every Muslim in every spot on Earth must work to defend  the blood of Muslims that is being shed by America and its allies, and their  sanctities that they are violating, and their villages and homes that they are  destroying, and their wealth that they are stealing,” said Zawahiri according to  the Site monitoring group.

Ely Karmon, senior researcher at the Institute  for Counter-Terrorism (ICT) and at the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya’s  Institute for Policy and Strategy, told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday that he  believes Zawahiri is “the weakest part of al-Qaida because most of its military  leaders have been killed and he is isolated in Pakistan  somewhere.”

Consequently al-Qaida affiliates have become much stronger,  he said, adding that he was skeptical that Zawahiri had given the order for the  attack in an open telephone conversation that the United States intercepted. It  is much more likely that the latest warnings – as well as ongoing attacks by  al-Qaida affiliates in the region – are the initiative of local groups and not  based on orders from above, said Karmon.

Another opinion is that Zawahiri  is trying “to prove al-Qaida’s capability is still intact and [that] he retains  control over its franchises,” wrote Anna Boyd, a senior Middle East analyst at  IHS Country Risk.

However, Karmon said the recent conflict between the  al-Qaida affiliates in Iraq and Syria demonstrated that Zawahiri was not  responsible for everything that was happening, and he was often forced to  respond to events after the fact.

In that conflict, the Iraqi affiliate  tried to unite with the Syrian al-Nusra Front, but the latter rejected the move  and Zawahiri was forced to deal with the dispute.

According to Karmon,  AQAP is the strongest al-Qaida affiliate. He noted that the organization had  succeeded in conquering several cities in Yemen, taking advantage of internal  conflicts.

These include the Sunni-Shi’ite battle going on in the north  of the country against the Shi’ite Houthis, who are supported by Iran, as well  as the historical conflict between north and south Yemen. Another lingering  conflict resulted from the 2011 uprising against former president Ali Abdullah  Saleh, who was replaced by Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

Also, Hadi visited US  President Barack Obama last week, which could be an added motivation for the  recent terrorist attack warnings.

Boyd believes that AQAP’s operational  network is weak and that it is unlikely to attack an embassy anywhere outside of  Yemen, “where its core capability is focused and where the risk is  severe.”

Saudi intelligence has effectively prevented it from  reestablishing a base inside Saudi Arabia, she said.

“Its ability to  mount attacks beyond the Arabian Peninsula has depended on recruiting single  foreign operatives,” or “on plots that require no operatives traveling outside  Yemen,” she wrote. Boyd also mentioned the failed 2009 plane bombing by a  Nigerian student on a flight to Detroit, and the attempt to ship bombs on  courier flights to the US.

Karmon finds it strange that the US decided to  shut down embassies – a move that is essentially a “prize to terrorists,” he  said. This decision seems to be an overreaction and might have been influenced  by the fatal attack against the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya, last  year.

Another interesting point, said Karmon, is that it remains unclear  why the US leaked so much information regarding the terrorist plans and the way  in which they were uncovered. Publishing the material could serve as a  deterrent, letting the terrorists think the US was aware of their plans, but it  could be counterproductive, he asserted, as the enemy could also use this  information.

Each al-Qaida affiliate is trying to enhance its position  without any over-arching coordination, Karmon concluded.

This reality  means that it will be much harder for the US and other intelligence agencies to  uncover plots that are often not directed from above.

Patrol gunmen from Al-Qaeda  near the Algerian border

An al-Qaeda gunman on patrol near the Algerian border Photo: REX FEATURES

Back To The Future: With Syria in Flames, Radical Islam All Around, President Obama Chooses To Discuss “Cold War Postures”

June 23, 2013

Commentary by Mona Charen

Townhall

An estimated 93,000 people have died in Syria’s metastasizing civil war. Hundreds of thousands of that conflict’s refugees strain resources and stability in neighboring countries. Iran continues its steady march toward nuclear weapons development. North Korea menaces its neighbors and episodically threatens to launch nuclear missiles at Los Angeles. Turkey, long lauded by Obama as a model for the region, is violently cracking down on peaceful demonstrators. Slow growth and high unemployment hobble the world’s most advanced economies as growing bureaucracy and crippling debt take their toll. Islamist movements are making gains in Mali, Indonesia, Pakistan and Iraq after gaining power in Egypt and Tunisia. The Taliban is boldly flying the flag of the “Islamic Emirates of Afghanistan” (the name of the country when they controlled it before 9/11) from their new offices in Doha. China is aggressively expanding its navy, engaging in barely concealed cyber espionage on American businesses and government and manufacturing territorial disputes with neighbors in the South China Sea. Russia is sliding steeply into tyranny, and Islamic terrorists have recently scored two victories — one on the streets of Boston and one in London.

Yet the president of the United States thinks the issue that urgently requires his attention is reducing the nuclear arsenals of Russia and America. Speaking in Germany to a crowd of 4,500 invited guests — a small fraction of the 200,000 who gathered to adore him in 2008 — the president reprised his stale “citizens of the world” platitude. He also returned to a theme he favored as a senator and presidential candidate: “We may no longer live in fear of global annihilation, but so long as nuclear weapons exist, we are not truly safe.” Accordingly, the President will seek “negotiated cuts” with Russia to reduce our nuclear arsenal by one-third from levels agreed to in 2010.

The president talks of moving beyond “Cold War postures,” but by focusing on nuclear arsenals, he seems to be the one in a time warp. Is he longing to revisit or even rewrite the history of the Cold War? Does he wish he could have been in Reagan’s place at Reykjavik? Obama would doubtless have cheerfully agreed to abandon the Strategic Defense Initiative, as Reagan declined to do. And what then? Would the world have been safer? What about the little detail that we won the Cold War? Perhaps he’d like to rewrite that, as well?

Obama invokes the goal of “ridding the world of nuclear weapons.” Sorry, but this is sophomoric. You might as well favor outlawing fire. He does, alas, have the power to weaken our nuclear deterrent. That’s what we get for reelecting him despite overhearing the whisper to Dmitri Medvedev that he would have “more flexibility” after the election. But the idea of setting a good example for the other nuclear powers is sheer childishness. Will Pakistan, India or, God help us, North Korea, be moved by our example? Were they in 2010, the last time Obama reduced our arsenal? This kind of thinking is unworthy of the leader of a great nation and frankly, a little frightening.

It’s also worrying that Obama has proved such a terrible judge of character. Bad enough that he alienated Netanyahu and embraced Erdogan. He continues to portray the thuggish Vladimir Putin as a worthy partner.

In the space of the last year, Putin has signaled that he may withdraw Russia from the post-Cold War treaty governing conventional forces in Europe and from the 1987 IMF treaty. He has threatened that if the U.S. gives even 10 missile interceptors to our ally Poland, Russia will have to “get new targets in Europe.”

For the first time since the Cold War, Russia has resumed heavy bomber sorties.

Since achieving power, the former KGB colonel has poisoned British citizen Alexander Litvinenko, who died in London, and Ukrainian leader Victor Yushchenko, who was maimed but survived. At least 14 journalists who challenged Putin have been assassinated. One in suburban Maryland was shot in the groin. Business leaders have been exiled and jailed. Ukraine, Estonia and Georgia have been bullied. Press freedoms have been radically curtailed. Russia has agreed to build two new nuclear reactors in Iran.

Putin has shown contempt for the naive Obama. Last month, Putin kept Secretary of State John Kerry waiting for three hours when Kerry visited to ask his cooperation on Syria. After the meeting, Russia announced that it was sending Assad the S-300 air defense missile system.

World leadership is not for beginners. It requires something beyond tabloid celebrity and dorm room musings.

Related:

By Charles Krauthammer:

Al-Qaida Jihadists Likely Have Surface to Air Missiles

June 11, 2013
In this March 29, 2013 photo provided by the French Army's images division, ECPAD, a French soldier holds the launch tube of an SA-7 surface-to-air missile before its destruction in Timbuktu, northern Mali. The knowledge that the terrorists have the weapon has already changed the way the French are carrying out their five-month-old offensive in Mali. They are using more fighter jets rather than helicopters to fly above its range of 1.4 miles (2.3 kilometers) from the ground, even though that makes it harder to attack the jihadists. They are also making cargo planes land and take off more steeply to limit how long they are exposed, in line with similar practices in Iraq after an SA-14 hit the wing of a DHL cargo plane in 2003. (AP Photo/ECPAD, Olivier Debes)

A French soldier holds the launch tube of an SA-7 surface-to-air missile before its destruction in Timbuktu, northern Mali. The knowledge that the terrorists have the weapon has already changed the way the French are carrying out their five-month-old offensive in Mali. They are using more fighter jets rather than helicopters to fly above its range of 1.4 miles (2.3 kilometers) from the ground, even though that makes it harder to attack the jihadists. They are also making cargo planes land and take off more steeply to limit how long they are exposed, in line with similar practices in Iraq after an SA-14 hit the wing of a DHL cargo plane in 2003. (AP Photo/ECPAD, Olivier Debes)

TIMBUKTU, Mali (AP) — The photocopies of the manual lay in heaps on the floor, in stacks that scaled one wall, like Xeroxed, stapled handouts for a class.

Except that the students in this case were al-Qaida fighters in Mali. And the manual was a detailed guide, with diagrams and photographs, on how to use a weapon that particularly concerns the United States: A surface-to-air missile capable of taking down a commercial airplane.

The 26-page document in Arabic, recovered by The Associated Press in a building that had been occupied by al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb in Timbuktu, strongly suggests the group now possesses the SA-7 surface-to-air missile, known to the Pentagon as the Grail, according to terrorism specialists. And it confirms that the al-Qaida cell is actively training its fighters to use these weapons, also called man-portable air-defense systems, or MANPADS, which likely came from the arms depots of ex-Libyan strongman Col. Moammar Gadhafi.

_________________

EDITOR’S NOTE — This is the fourth story in an occasional series based on thousands of pages of internal al-Qaida documents recovered by The Associated Press earlier this year in Timbuktu, Mali.

_________________

“The existence of what apparently constitutes a ‘Dummies Guide to MANPADS’ is strong circumstantial evidence of al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb having the missiles,” said Atlantic Council analyst Peter Pham, a former adviser to the United States’ military command in Africa and an instructor to U.S. Special Forces. “Why else bother to write the guide if you don’t have the weapons? … If AQIM not only has the MANPADS, but also fighters who know how to use them effectively,” he added, “then the impact is significant, not only on the current conflict, but on security throughout North and West Africa, and possibly beyond.”

The United States was so worried about this particular weapon ending up in the hands of terrorists that the State Department set up a task force to track and destroy it as far back as 2006. In the spring of 2011, before the fighting in Tripoli had even stopped, a U.S. team flew to Libya to secure Gadhafi’s stockpile of thousands of heat-seeking, shoulder-fired missiles.

By the time they got there, many had already been looted.

“The MANPADS were specifically being sought out,” said Peter Bouckaert, emergencies director for Human Rights Watch, who catalogued missing weapons at dozens of munitions depots and often found nothing in the boxes labelled with the code for surface-to-air missiles.

The manual is believed to be an excerpt from a terrorist encyclopedia edited by Osama bin Laden. It adds to evidence for the weapon found by French forces during their land assault in Mali earlier this year, including the discovery of the SA-7’s battery pack and launch tube, according to military statements and an aviation official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to comment.

The knowledge that the terrorists have the weapon has already changed the way the French are carrying out their five-month-old offensive in Mali. They are using more fighter jets rather than helicopters to fly above its range of 1.4 miles (2.3 kilometers) from the ground, even though that makes it harder to attack the jihadists. They are also making cargo planes land and take off more steeply to limit how long they are exposed, in line with similar practices in Iraq after an SA-14 hit the wing of a DHL cargo plane in 2003.

And they have added their own surveillance at Mali’s international airport in Bamako, according to two French aviation officials and an officer in the Operation Serval force. All three spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment.

“There are patrols every day,” said the French officer. “It’s one of the things we have not entrusted to the Malians, because the stakes are too high.”

First introduced in the 1960s in the Soviet Union, the SA-7 was designed to be portable. Not much larger than a poster tube, it can be packed into a duffel bag and easily carried. It’s also affordable, with some SA-7s selling for as little as $5,000.

Since 1975, at least 40 civilian aircraft have been hit by different types of MANPADS, causing about 28 crashes and more than 800 deaths around the world, according to the U.S. Department of State.

The SA-7 is an old generation model, which means most military planes now come equipped with a built-in protection mechanism against it. But that’s not the case for commercial planes, and the threat is greatest to civilian aviation.

In Kenya in 2002, suspected Islamic extremists fired two SA-7s at a Boeing 757 carrying 271 vacationers back to Israel, but missed. Insurgents in Iraq used the weapons, and YouTube videos abound purporting to show Syrian rebels using the SA-7 to shoot down regime planes.

An SA-7 tracks a plane by directing itself toward the source of the heat, the engine. It takes time and practice, however, to fire it within range. The failure of the jihadists in Mali so far to hit a plane could mean that they cannot position themselves near airports with commercial flights, or that they are not yet fully trained to use the missile.

“This is not a ‘Fire and forget’ weapon,” said Bruce Hoffman, director of the Center for Security Studies at Georgetown University. “There’s a paradox here. One the one hand it’s not easy to use, but against any commercial aircraft there would be no defenses against them. It’s impossible to protect against it. … If terrorists start training and learn how to use them, we’ll be in a lot of trouble.”

In Timbuktu, SA-7 training was likely part of the curriculum at the ‘Jihad Academy’ housed in a former police station, said Jean-Paul Rouiller, director of the Geneva Center for Training and Analysis of Terrorism, one of three experts who reviewed the manual for AP. It’s located less than 3 miles (5 kilometers) from the Ministry of Finance’s Budget Division building where the manual was found.

Neighbors say they saw foreign fighters running laps each day, carrying out target practice and inhaling and holding their breath with a pipe-like object on their shoulder. The drill is standard practice for shoulder-held missiles, including the SA-7.

As the jihadists fled ahead of the arrival of French troops who liberated Timbuktu on Jan. 28, they left the manual behind, along with other instructional material, including a spiral-bound pamphlet showing how to use the KPV-14.5 anti-aircraft machine gun and another on how to make a bomb out of ammonium nitrate, among other documents retrieved by the AP. Residents said the jihadists grabbed reams of paper from inside the building, doused them in fuel and set them alight. The black, feathery ash lay on top of the sand in a ditch just outside the building’s gate.

However, numerous buildings were still full of scattered papers.

“They just couldn’t destroy everything,” said neighbor Mohamed Alassane. “They appeared to be in a panic when the French came. They left in a state of disorder.”

The manual is illustrated with grainy images of Soviet-looking soldiers firing the weapon. Point-by-point instructions explain how to insert the battery, focus on the target and fire.

The manual also explains that the missile will malfunction above 45 degrees Celsius, the temperature in the deserts north of Timbuktu. And it advises the shooter to change immediately into a second set of clothes after firing to avoid detection.

Its pages are numbered 313 through 338, suggesting they came from elsewhere. Mathieu Guidere, an expert on Islamic extremists at the University of Toulouse, believes the excerpts are lifted from the Encyclopedia of Jihad, an 11-volume survey on the craft of war first compiled by the Taliban in the 1980s and later codified by Osama bin Laden. Bin Laden, who led a contingent of Arab fighters in Afghanistan at the time, paid to have the encyclopedia translated into Arabic, according to Guidere, author of a book on al-Qaida’s North African branch.

However, the cover page of the manual boasts the name of al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb.

“It’s a way to make it their own,” said Guidere. “It’s like putting a logo on something. … It shows the historic as well as the present link between al-Qaida core and AQIM.”

Bin Laden later assembled a team of editors to update the manual, put it on CD-ROMs and eventually place it on the Internet, in a move that lay the groundwork for the globalization of jihad, according to terrorism expert Jarret Brachman, who was the director of research at the Combating Terrorism Center when the al-Qaida encyclopaedia was first found.

N.R. Jenzen-Jones, an arms expert in Australia, confirmed that the information in the manual in Timbuktu on the missile’s engagement range, altitude and weight appeared largely correct. He cautions though that the history of the SA-7 is one of near-misses, specifically because it takes training to use.

“Even if you get your hands on an SA-7, it’s no guarantee of success,” he said. “However, if someone manages to take down a civilian aircraft, it’s hundreds of dead instantly. It’s a high impact, low-frequency event, and it sows a lot of fear.”

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Associated Press writer Lori Hinnant contributed to this report from Paris, and AP journalist Amir Bibawy translated the document. Callimachi reported this article in Timbuktu, Mali and in Dakar, Senegal.

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The document from al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb in Arabic and English can be seen at http://hosted.ap.org/specials/interactives/_international/_pdfs/al-qaida-papers-dangerous-weapon.pdf

Rukmini Callimachi can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/rcallimachi


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