The numerous armed groups in the Sahel often take advantage of the porous borders and weak regional security to establish their violent campaigns. A recently consolidated AQIM - since mending relations with its offshoot, the al-Murabitoun group - is keen to cement its status as the dominant jihadist group in North Africa and the Sahel, particularly with the rise of its rival, the so-called Islamic State, in the region. AQIM made this point in its purported attack on the Radisson Blu hotel in Mali's capital Bamako in Nov 15. Mali has been a key theatre of operation but now its southern neighbour, Burkina Faso, is the latest victim.
Burkina Faso is only just moving on from a political crisis. Its new President, Roch Kabore, has only been in office for three weeks and already has his hands full. Militants attacked the Splendid and the nearby Cappuccino cafe on the evening of the 15 Jan 16 setting off several explosions. Both places are popular with UN staff and foreigners. Survivors described how the militants went from person to person, touching their bodies to see if they moved. Those that did were shot at close range. Interior Minister Simon Compaore said 10 bodies had been found on the cafe terrace alone. He added that at least 33 hostages had been injured.
As the end of the siege at the Splendid was being announced, reports came in that militants had taken up position at the Yibi hotel, a short distance away. One attacker was killed at the Yibi, officials said later. Remi Dandjinou, the Burkinabe communications minister, told the BBC earlier that between six and seven militants had attacked the Splendid, adding that they had been staying at the hotel as guests. Interior Minister Compaore said two black Africans and an Arab were among the militants killed. Burkina Faso recently held its first presidential election since a coup earlier last year. That coup toppled long-time leader Blaise Compaore, who had governed for 27 years. "We are still in a context of political fragility, so I think the timing of this attack is meaningful," Cynthia Ohayon, an analyst with the International Crisis Group said. "The country has long borders with Mali and Niger, and we know there are armed groups present on the border, so this was probably something we had coming."
361 COMMENT: Although reports coming in regarding the attack are somewhat sketchy there are a couple of interesting points that have come out already. The first is that it states that the terrorists had been in the hotel as guests. During the attack on the Westgate shopping Mall in Nairobi, Kenya by al-Shabaab on the 21 Sep 13 there was a report that the terrorists or some had actually had a stall in the shopping precinct. This new report, if true, shows that the terrorists that are organising the attack are not only carrying out a complex reconnaissance but installing themselves in the heart of where the attack is to take place. This would ensure that they have up-to-date intelligence on the target. It would be interesting to know how long they were there prior to the attack. If it was for a long period of time then they may have been waiting for a particular target.
If it was for a short period then the hotel and anyone inside would have been the target. The second point of interest was touching of bodies to see if they were really dead. This point has never been reported before and could be a result of past attacks where people have feigned death to escape the terrorists. This will not be the case in future as they have clearly learnt from listening or watching past media reports. Al-Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM) have been quiet for some time and this the publicity that it has gained by attacking a major hotel in the capital of the country will give them much needed publicity and also show those sceptics who believe that they are no longer a viable force that they are still deadly and are to be taken seriously. COMMENT ENDS
Cameroon – Two female suicide bombers attacked a mosque in a town near Cameroon's border with Nigeria during morning prayers on the 13 Jan 16 killing at least 10 people and wounding about a dozen others, the governor of the region said. The attack in the town of Kolofata is believed to have been carried out by Boko Haram members who crossed the border into Cameroon a few days ago, said Midjiyawa Bakari. The town of Kolofata in Cameroon's far north near the border has been repeatedly attacked by Boko Haram. Another suicide attack blamed on Boko Haram in Dec 15 in Cameroon killed at least seven people and wounded 30 others, officials said. In Sep 15 suicide bombers killed nine people in Kolofata and injuring 18. The Islamic militants began stepping up their attacks early last year on neighbouring Cameroon and other countries that have supported the Nigerian military's effort to crush Boko Haram.
Egypt – Gunmen on a motorcycle opened fire on tourists as they boarded a bus in Cairo, security sources said on the 7 Jan 16. The attack took place at a hotel on a road leading to the pyramids. One gunmen was arrested at the scene and security forces surrounded the other masked attacker in another part of Cairo, said the sources. The tourists included two Israelis, the sources said. There were no casualties, but the front of the Three Pyramids Hotel was sprayed with bullets.
08 Jan 16 – Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) said on the 8 Jan 16 its members carried out an attack on Israeli tourists in Cairo in response to a call by the group's leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, to target Jews "everywhere". The group said in an internet statement that light arms were used in Thursday's (7 Jan 16). Egypt's interior ministry said the attack was directed at security forces and was carried out by a lone gunman who fired bird shot. The attacker was arrested, it added. Security sources said the tourists were Israeli Arabs and there were no casualties. The tourism industry is a vital source of hard currency in Egypt and is highly sensitive to attacks.
361 COMMENT: Having seen photographs of the bullet holes in the bus that was carrying the tourists, they are definitely not from birdshot. In the wave of the recent violence and from the latter part of 2015, Egypt is desperate to give a clear indication that it is a safe place for tourists to visit. The truth maybe different and the coming months will tell. If Da’esh or any other terrorist organisation in Egypt step up terrorist attacks it will be difficult for the Egyptian government to hide it and it will affect the tourist industry which the country not only need but is dependent on. COMMENT ENDS
Egypt – Three foreign tourists have been wounded by assailants who attacked a hotel in the Egyptian Red Sea resort city of Hurghada on the 9 Jan 16. The Security Information Centre of Egypt's Ministry of Interior said in a statement that two Austrians and a Swede had been injured while the attackers were trying to escape the scene on the 8 Jan 16. One of the assailants was killed by security forces and another was in custody, the statement said, adding that the attackers were armed with an air gun and knives. It said an investigation was underway. The assailants arrived by sea to carry out the assault on the beachside Bella Vista Hotel, but security forces repelled the assault. The attack came a day after a tourist bus took fire from gunmen in the capital, Cairo.
09 Jan 16 – Armed men shot dead a police officer and a soldier on the 9 Jan 16 while they were in their car in the Giza area, on the outskirts of Cairo, the state news agency said. "Immediately after the incident several moving and fixed checkpoints were deployed in the Muneeb area in order to crack down on the attackers and catch them," a security source was quoted as saying by the state news agency.
Egypt’s Tourism Minister Hisham Zaazou said on the 9 Dec 16 that the government will announce additional security measures to safeguard tourists after an attack in the Red Sea resort of Hurgada left three injured on the 8 Jan 16. Tourism is critical to the Egyptian economy as a source of hard currency. “The welfare of the tourists visiting Egypt is of the greatest importance to us and will continue to be so. No stone will be left unturned to ensure their security,” Zaazou said. “Over the coming days we will announce even greater security measures to safeguard all tourists visiting Egypt,” he said. Germany updated its travel advice after the hotel attack, advising tourists in Hurghada not to go on any day trips from the resort for now and recommending they stay vigilant. In response, the German arm of Europe’s largest tour operator TUI said it was cancelling all day trips from Hurghada until the end of January. It currently has about 3,100 German guests in Egypt, all of whom it said were fine. It said it would help those who wished to leave early, but that so far there had been only a few requests to return.
Libya/Da’esh – Two were killed when Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS/Da’esh) militants on 4 Jan 16 clashed with a force guarding Libya's Es Sider oil port and fighting continued near the major export terminal, witnesses and troops said. According to a guard, a storage tank at the port was also set on fire. No official was available to confirm the attack or details of how close the fighting was to the port. But ISIS tried to attack Es Sider once before in Oct 15 setting of a car bomb and raiding a perimeter gate. Es Sider and nearby Ras Lanuf oil ports have been closed for more than a year after fighting between rival factions for control of the country, where ISIS has gained ground in the turmoil since the 2011 fall of Muammar Qaddafi. Es Sider is protected by Ibrahim al-Jathran's Petrol Facilities Guard, a federalist armed faction. ISIS controls the city of Sirte and has slowly expanded its presence in the North Africa state. Its fighters have attacked several oilfields in the south of Libya, but it has so far not managed to control any oil installations as it has done in Syria.
Libya – A truck-bomb attack on a police training centre in a western town in Libya has killed at least 65 people, according to hospital and police officials on the 7 Jan 16. Witnesses said on Thursday the truck crashed into the gate of the police academy in the coastal city of Zliten, about 160km east of the capital, Tripoli. Zliten Mayor Miftah Lahmadi said the truck exploded as hundreds of recruits were gathering at the academy. The UN Special representative to Libya, Martin Kobler, said the blast was a suicide attack. No one has claimed responsibility for the assault. Libyan news agency LANA, meanwhile, reported at least 50 people died. The news agency quoted the director of the town's hospital, Abdel-Motleb bin Halim, saying 127 had been injured.
Libya/Da’esh – Unidentified aircraft attacked an ISIS convoy on the 10 Jan 16 near the Libyan city of Sirte. The coastal city has been controlled for months by the militant group, which has used it as a base from which to try to expand its presence in Libya. The witness account could not be verified, and the air force allied to one of Libya’s competing governments, based in the east of the country, said it had not carried out any strikes. Also on Sunday, a spokesman for the Petroleum Facilities Guard said three boats had tried to attack the oil port of Zueitina. The guards repelled the attack before the boats reached the port, hitting one of the vessels and setting it on fire, Ali al-Hassi said. He said ISIS militants were suspected of carrying out the attack.
Northern Uganda/South Sudan; Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) – The ivory trade is providing a final “lifeline” for Joseph Kony, the Ugandan warlord responsible for abducting tens of thousands of children it was reported on the 12 Jan 16. After waging war for three decades – and being indicted for crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court – Kony has been forced back to a last refuge in a remote area of South Sudan called Kafia Kingi. A defector from his rebel group, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), has told a British newspaper how Kony trades elephant tusks for ammunition. Ofwono Opondo Ogaldin spent 27 years in the LRA after being abducted at the age of 10. Before his escape last year, he was a member of Kony’s unit of ivory poachers.
Mr Ogaldin would be sent to hunt elephants in Garamba National Park in the north-eastern corner of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Scores of rangers have been killed there while trying to save an elephant population that has fallen below 2,000 animals, compared with 20,000 in the 1960s. Mr Ogaldin said that he and the rest of the poaching unit would subsist on elephant meat and send their tusks to Kony. “In Garamba, we would eat the bush meat and pick the ivory and it was taken to Kony,” he said in the northern Ugandan town of Gulu. “He exchanged it with the Arabs for uniforms and magazines [of ammunition].
For the LRA it was an easy exchange.” Asked how frequently his unit killed an elephant, Mr Ogaldin said this happened around once a week, but added: “The elephant is clever and he knows you are coming.” African Parks, the South African charity that manages Garamba, said that 96 elephants had been poached in the park in 2015 – or about two per week. From Garamba, the tusks were taken through Congo to the Central African Republic – and then onwards to Kony’s refuge in Kafia Kingi. This area of South Sudan is under the de facto control of the armed forces of neighbouring Sudan.
Kony’s ivory is then bought by the Sudanese military, for onward shipment to Asia or the Gulf, according to an investigation by the Enough Project, a campaign group. Kony has an old alliance with President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan. For decades, the Khartoum regime armed and supplied the LRA’s campaign in northern Uganda, supposedly in retaliation for Uganda’s support for separatist rebels. Mr Bashir claimed to have stopped backing Kony before 2005, when a peace agreement allowed the birth of South Sudan. Yet the evidence suggests that, even today, Sudan’s armed forces are still supplying Kony in exchange for ivory.
Elephant poaching was now a “lifeline for survival” for the LRA, said Sasha Lezhnev, from the Enough Project. Kony considers the trade to be so vital that he has placed his two oldest sons in charge of transporting the tusks. “LRA defectors came out with fresh rounds of ammunition in very substantial amounts as well as new rocket propelled grenades,” said Mr Lezhnev. “Many commanders say Kony himself gave orders for them to go and collect ivory from these elephants and also say that he himself is hoarding some of the tusks as well as gold and diamonds.” But the LRA has been steadily weakened and depleted. A decade ago, Kony was forced out of his original killing ground in northern Uganda, retreating to neighbouring Congo and South Sudan.
Since 2011, about 100 US military advisers and Special Forces have been permanently deployed to help African armies fight the LRA. After their arrival, Kony fled into the Central African Republic and then Kafia Kingi. In the process, the force around him has steadily dwindled. Today, the LRA may be down to just 120 armed fighters accompanied by about 100 women and children. But the LRA is still targeting the elephants in Garamba, which covers an area about a third of the size of Northern Ireland. In 2015, the park’s rangers fought 28 gun battles and killed five poachers, suffering the same number of dead themselves. Mr Lezhnev urged governments to do more to “intercept alleged ivory containers in East Africa, the port of Mombasa, and the routes to the Middle East, Dubai and Asia.”
361 SECURITY: Is al-Shabaab conducting Elephant poaching and selling to the same bidders? COMMENT ENDS
Somalia – Fighters from the al-Shabaab group have attacked a base for African Union peacekeepers in south-western Somalia, blasting their way into the compound and exchanging fire with peacekeepers, a Somali military official said on the 15 Jan 16. Dozens of al-Shabaab fighters on the 15 Jan 16 assaulted the military base, which is run by Kenyan troops who are part of the AU force in the town of El-Ade, not far from the Kenyan border. The attack started with a suicide car bomb, and then heavy gunfire was heard as fighters stormed into the base. Fighting was still going on inside the base. He had no details about any casualties. However, Al-Shabaab said their fighters killed dozens of Kenyan troops in the attack. Al-Shabaab reported on its online radio station that its fighters had managed to penetrate the base and were fighting African Union troops.