Egypt/Islamic State – ISIS claimed on the 12 Aug 15 to have beheaded a Croatian hostage abducted in Egypt, posting a purported picture of the victim's body on ISIS-affiliated Twitter accounts. The Croat, Tomislav Salopek, was abducted last month west of the capital Cairo. The jihadists had issued a 48-hour deadline that ended last Friday (7 Aug 15) threatening to kill him if Muslim women prisoners were not released from Egyptian jails. The picture's authenticity could not be immediately verified. His abduction and purported killing were unprecedented in Egypt. The picture was posted on ISIS-affiliated Twitter accounts with the caption: "Execution of prisoner from Croatia -- which has participated in war on Islamic State -- after deadline ended." Salopek, a father of two, had been working with French geoscience company CGG when abducted from a car roughly 22 kilometres west of Cairo, security sources said.
Libya/Islamic State – Islamic State militants have pressed an offensive to retake the port city of Derna in eastern Libya, when seven were killed and 19 injured in a car bomb explosion in Derna on the 9 Aug 15. It was not immediately clear whether Islamic State was responsible for the car bomb. Accurate information is difficult to obtain in Derna, a remote city controlled by Islamists outside government control. Islamic State has built up a significant presence in Libya, exploiting a security vacuum as two rival governments battle for power four years after the ousting of Muammar Gaddafi. But Islamic State was expelled from Derna in Jun 15 by rival Islamist groups backed up by residents angry over the arrival of foreign fighters and clerics in the city. Islamic State fighters were trying on the 9 Aug to retake Derna, residents said. The rival Islamist Abu Salim Martyrs Brigade managed to repulse their attack, but fighting with heavy weapons raged on the eastern edge of the city late into Sunday night, they said. An Islamist commander opposing Islamic State was killed, Islamic State said, adding others had been killed and wounded. But no further details were immediately available. The air force of Libya's official government, which has been based in the east of the country since losing control of the capital Tripoli a year ago, conducted an air strike on an area that Islamic State was trying to take, said Abdul-Karim Sabra, a local military spokesman. The eastern government forces have had a presence near Derna for more than a year but have not tried to take the city. The government and parliament based in Tripoli are not recognised internationally. Both Libyan administrations are allied to loose groups of former anti-Gaddafi rebels who have divided up along political, tribal and regional lines.
Libya’s internationally recognized government has asked fellow Arab states to conduct airstrikes against Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in the coastal city of Sirte, a cabinet statement said on the night of the 15 Aug 15. In the past few days, ISIS has crushed a revolt by a Salafist Muslim group and armed residents trying to break its grip on the city. Dozens of people have been killed, according to residents. The fighting typifies chaos in Libya, where two rival governments and parliaments, together with an assortment of Islamists, tribesmen and armed groups, are battling for control of cities and regions. “Libya’s temporary government urges... the Arab brother states...to conduct air strikes against positions of the Da’esh terrorist group in Sirte,” a cabinet statement said. The official government has been based in eastern Libya since losing control of the capital Tripoli a year ago to a rival group, which set up its own administration. Neither government has control of Sirte, Gaddafi’s hometown. Both governments have conducted air strikes against ISIS in Sirte in recent days but their capabilities are very limited, relying on outdated warplanes and helicopters from the Gaddafi era and lacking precision guns. It was not clear how Arab states would respond. 361 COMMENT: Arab states maybe reluctant to involve themselves in what will be seen as a separate issue due to their commitment in Yemen. On the other hand though, they have the wealth and ability to be able to conduct operations on two fronts. COMMENT ENDS
Mali – Five foreigners were evacuated and a "number" of hostages freed after they were trapped by gunmen in a hotel standoff with soldiers in central Mali that left at least seven people dead, military sources said on the 8 Aug 15. A military source said Malian Special Forces had rescued the hostages, including five foreigners "who were evacuated to Bamako". The source was unable to specify their nationalities. The attackers had stormed the hotel, frequented by foreign visitors and troops, at around 0700 hrs on the 7 Aug 15 according to the government. Malian forces cordoned off the area but their efforts against the gunmen were made "sensitive" by the presence of hostages a military source said. Part of the UN peacekeeping mission (MINUSMA) also stay at the hotel, the government said. The government statement Friday evening gave a provisional toll of "five dead, two injured" on the Malian army side and "two killed" on the insurgent side. Seven suspects had been detained, it added. MINUSMA said a member of its associate international staff was killed in the "terrorist attack", without giving the victim's nationality. It was not clear if that death was included in the government toll. It said the initial target of the attack was a Malian military site. "The attackers, who were repulsed by the Malian forces, then holed up in a hotel," a MINUSMA statement said. One of the attackers was wearing an explosives belt. It was unclear who the foreigners were though the governments of Russia and Ukraine confirmed that they each had a national among the hostages. A spokesman for the Russian embassy in Mali told RIA Novosti state news agency that the Russian hostage was an employee of UTAir, an aviation company which works with the UN peacekeeping mission. No one claimed responsibility for the attack, which comes as Mali battles a resurgence in jihadist violence, two years after a French-led offensive
Nigeria – Nigeria's military said on the 3 Aug 15 that it had "besieged" Boko Haram positions in the Islamist militant group's north-eastern heartland after setting free 178 hostages, mainly women and children. The ongoing operation led to the capture of a Boko Haram commander, according to the army, while a "large number" of the extremists have been killed in air strikes. The hostages were released on the 2 Aug 15 near Aulari, about 70 kilometres south of Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state, once a jihadist stronghold. "During the offensive operations, 178 people held captive by the terrorists were rescued. They included 101 children, 67 women and 10 men," military spokesman Colonel Tukur Gusau said. The Nigerian military announced the release of hundreds of people held by Boko Haram in recent months, many of them in the vast Sambisa forest, a long time bastion of the Islamist group. "The military operation... will continue until the terrorists are totally subdued. For now, we have besieged the forest and military operations are going on from different fronts," army spokesman Colonel Sani Usman said. He said the freed hostages were being screened and processed and would be reunited with their families after further security checks. However, the soldier was unable to give any details on the identity or rank of the Boko Haram commander seized in the operation to free the hostages, except that the militant was "undergoing interrogation". Air strikes on the 31 Jul 15 and the 1 Aug 15 targeted the village of Bita on the fringes of the forest near the Cameroonian border, where Boko Haram was preparing to launch an offensive, the military said.
Suspected pirates travelling by speedboat killed four soldiers and a policeman and stole weapons in a raid on a military base in Nigeria's oil-rich southern delta region, the police and armed forces said on the 8 Aug 15. The gunmen attacked the mixed military and police Joint Task Force (JTF) base at Nembe in Bayelsa state at approximately 2230 GMT on the 7 Aug a police spokesman said. Four speedboats loaded with unknown gunmen, suspected to be sea pirates, attacked the JTF base at Nembe waterfront killing four soldiers and one policeman. The suspected pirates took weapons from the base. A combined military and police team was searching local creeks to find the attackers. Oil bunkers were thought to be behind the attack, oil bunkering, the process of hacking into pipelines to steal crude then refining it or selling it abroad, has long been a major cost to Nigeria's treasury, which depends on oil for around 70 percent of its earnings. The delta region is home to most of the oil and gas reserves in Nigeria, Africa's biggest crude producer and also its biggest economy.
On the 12 Aug 15 it was reported that a blast in north-eastern Nigeria's Borno State killed at least 47 people and injured another 52, according to a military source. The explosion struck the town of Sabon Gari at around 1330 hrs local time on the 11 Aug 15. Al Jazeera's Ahmed Idris, reporting from the city of Kano, said the attack happened close to a cattle market. The attack was carried out by a female suicide bomber who detonated her device close to a cattle market. The explosion happened inside the market at the mobile phone section, near the livestock section of the market. It was concealed in a knapsack used for spraying herbicides. It was smuggled into the market and apparently abandoned. Although at the time of compiling the report no group had claimed the incident it is thought that Boko Haram were responsible.
Abubakar Shekau, the head of the Boko Haram Islamist group that kidnapped more than 200 Nigerian schoolgirls in 2014, has been ousted as its leader, it has been claimed in a report from the British Daily Telegraph on the 12 Aug 15. Shekau, who gained worldwide notoriety after appearing in a series of videos in which he threatened to sell the girls as slaves, has been replaced by another Boko Haram deputy who is said to be open to peace talks, according to Idriss Deby, the president of neighbouring Chad. Mr Deby, whose forces have been fighting Boko Haram militants around Nigeria's border areas, made the comments in a press conference on the 11 Aug 15 in which he claimed that the group was now on the back foot militarily and would be finished "by the end of the year". "There is someone apparently called Mahamat Daoud who is said to have replaced Abubakr Shekau and he wants to negotiate with the Nigerian government," he said. "For my part, I would advise not to negotiate with a terrorist." It was not clear how Mr Deby had obtained his information, although rumours have been circulating in recent months that Shekau had gone on the run or even fled Nigeria altogether as a result of increased military operations against Boko Haram by both the Nigerian and Chadian governments. Little seems known as of yet about the man named by Deby as his successor, whose name may well be a nom de guerre. "I have not heard of any individual called Mahamat Daoud," said Dr Jonathan Hill, a Reader in the Defence Studies Department at London's King's College, who monitors Boko Haram's activities closely. "But there are a number of characters claiming to represent different factions within Boko Haram, and their bona fides are often hard to verify.” Mr Deby was speaking to reporters in the Chadian capital, N'Djamena, on the 55th anniversary of Chad's independence from France. His claims that Boko Haram are facing imminent defeat will be questioned by some, however, given the carnage the group has wreaked in recent days across its strongholds in north-east Nigeria. On the 11 Aug 15 a bomb killed at least 47 people and wounded dozens more in the village of Sabon Gari, near the north-east city of Maiduguri. Two days before that, jihadists shot dead four people and abducted five more in the same area. Nigerian and Chadian commanders maintain that they have at least stopped the group controlling entire towns and neighbourhoods, and that the recent attacks amount to a return to hit-and-run tactics. While claiming progress in the fight against the jihadists, who have repeatedly hit border areas of Cameroon, Chad and Niger, Mr Deby admitted that suicide bombers still posed a threat. But he added: "Boko Haram is decapitated. There are little groups (of Boko Haram members) scattered throughout east Nigeria, on the border with Cameroon. It is within our power to definitively overcome Boko Haram." It is not the first time that reports have emerged claiming Shekau's downfall. Reports from the Nigerian military and media have declared him dead on several occasions, although experts also believe that the various videos that have appeared purporting to be him sometimes feature lookalikes. He is believed to have ruled out all prospects of peace talks with the Nigerian government, allegedly causing rifts with other Boko Haram commanders who favoured negotiations that could also have led to the freeing of the schoolgirls. Nigeria's new president, ex-general Muhammadu Buhari, is understood to be willing to talk those willing to lay down their arms, despite pledging to take a firmer hand against the group than his predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan. Dr Hill added that Mr Deby's predictions of Boko Haram's imminent demise could be premature. "I think it is a little too early to say that there is light at the end of the tunnel. It is also intriguing that the president of Chad feels sufficiently confident to announce Shekau's departure from Boko Haram, given that we have been down this kind of road before. I do wonder whether Deby is practising a bit of mischief, trying to create internal discord within Boko Haram."
If it is true that the group has a new leader, that he is who we think he is, and that he's willing to negotiate, it could be a game changer in the battle against Boko Haram (13 Aug 15). According to Chad's president, Idriss Deby, the Islamist militant group Boko Haram has a new leader. Speaking in a press conference, Deby claimed that the notorious Abubakar Shekau, who has long led the group responsible for tens of thousands of deaths mostly in northern Nigeria, was no longer at the helm. Instead, the president said that a man named Mahamat Daoud had now taken over and, moreover, was open to dialogue with the Nigerian government. Where exactly Deby got his information from is unclear, but even if there is truth to it, we should not rush to conclusions. For example, although the announcement that Shekau is no longer in charge has provoked fresh rumours of his demise, it is worth noting that Shekau's death has been reported and then retracted several times in the past. It is also worth noting that Boko Haram is not a monolithic organisation - there are internal divisions and different groups all labelled as Boko Haram because of their shared origin, and many spokespeople have claimed to speak for the group in the past to little real effect. If the group does have a 'new leader', what this would mean is not straightforward. Nevertheless, there are some questions we can answer.
Firstly, is it true that Shekau has been replaced?
Well, yes, in that he is no longer the sole head of Boko Haram. He now reports to a boss in charge of Islamic State West Africa, who reports to a boss in Syria, who in his turn reports to the so-called Caliph Ibrahim (aka Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi), the supreme leader of Islamic State. What is also clear is that not all members of Shekau's circle were happy about the decision to join Islamic State, and there have been talks of several defectors over the months.
What is less clear is whether Shekau has really now been replaced in his role within Boko Haram - though we can still answer some questions around Deby's claims, such as: who is this Mahamat Daoud? If this who I think it is then this news is significant. First of all, his real name is Muhammad Daud. He is said to be about 38 years old and is a Shuwa Arab from Maiduguri with a Kanambu mother from Chad. He is one of the earliest students of Muhammad Yusuf, Boko Haram's original leader, and is said to have been one of the few amongst the close circle of Yusuf's students that disagreed with the 2009 Uprising in which the group launched attacks on Nigerian security forces. Daud apparently argued that Boko Haram was not yet strong enough to take over the area. Daud is also said to be a trader in perfumes and an ex-serviceman, although the particular service he was in is not known by the majority of my sources. He is also one of the scholars of Islamic State of West Africa and is regarded as their Imam of the Science of Hadith. He was said to be a staunch Yusufi, opposing the polarising policies of Shekau after Yusuf's death in 2009; despite swearing an oath to Shekau, he was one of the few top dogs against the pledge of allegiance made to Islamic State, rejecting it as a betrayal of the teachings of Yusuf. If Daud really is seeking negotiations, it means he has broken away from Shekau with a faction of men loyal to him. And if he is claiming to have replaced Shekau as the head of the group, it probably means Shekau and his followers are now in Daud's rifle sights. Daud's hatred of Shekau may very well surpass his hatred for the Nigerian State.
How does this change anything?
Firstly, Daud is a powerful commander within the group, in charge of Boko Haram's counter-intelligence and internal security arm known as Amniyah. Before that, he was in charge of the unit responsible for operations in Maiduguri and other major Nigerian cities, meaning he oversaw the training of suicide bombers, the planning of operations in major cities, the selection of targets, and the dispatching of the human weapons to their assigned strike areas. He also ran the group's intelligence unit and was responsible for collecting the hundreds of millions of naira many state governors were paying the militants to avoid Boko Haram attacking their states. Daud has a significant support base - I expect hundreds of fighters to follow him if he has left Shekau - and would have tons of information about sleeper cells and operatives of Islamic State West Africa. He could expose the money generation and transfer methods the group uses, reveal critical intelligence about the group's inner structure, and maybe even offer up information as to how to kill Shekau. If Daud is really seeking negotiations, the Nigerian government should hurry and take the offer as having him on side could well be a game changer. However, the risk of course is that this is all just a ruse to buy time. And looking back at Boko Haram's history of behaviour, this possibility cannot and should not be ruled out either.
(Fulan Nasrullah is a Nigerian blogger and national security analyst.)
Somalia/China/al-Shabaab – On the 31 Jul 15, the Turkestan Islamic Party (TIP), a Uyghur jihadi organization, released a statement praising the deadly attack by Al-Shabaab Al-Mujahideen on the Jazeera Palace Hotel in which more than a dozen people, including a Chinese embassy worker, were killed. Foreign diplomats usually stay at the Jazeera Palace Hotel, which also accommodates several embassies, including those of China, Qatar, and Egypt. In a statement following the attack, Al-Shabaab Al-Mujahideen said that the attack was a response to the Somali government and AMISOM forces targeting of its members. In its statement, however, TIP said that the attack was a response from Al-Shabaab "to the calls of the imprisoned scholars, brothers, and sisters in the prisons of the atheist China," while noting that the attack was also a "practical response to the Communist Chinese government's aggression against Muslims in East Turkestan."