Britain prepares Libya intervention
The UK will be sending troops to Tunisia to help prevent ISIS fighters from entering the country from Libya, British Defense Minister Michael Fallon said March 1. "A training team of some 20 troops from the 4th Infantry Brigade is now moving to Tunisia to help to counter illegal cross-border movement from Libya in support of the Tunisian authorities," Fallon told Parliament. Using the Arabic acronym for ISIS, he added: "I am extremely concerned about the proliferation of Daesh along the Libyan coastline, which is why we have been urgently assisting the formation of a new Libyan government." Implicitly invoking deployment of ground forces in Libya, he said: "Before taking any military action in Libya, we would seek an invitation from the new Libyan government." (MEM, March 2)
US warplanes strike ISIS targets in Libya
US warplanes hit an ISIS camp at Sabratha, about 70 kilometers west of Tripoli, killing at least 49—said to be mostly foreign fighters who were preparing an attack in Europe. The camp was said to be led by Noureddine Chouchane AKA "Sabir"—a Tunisian militant held to be responsible in last year's terror attacks in Tunisia. "We took this action against Sabir in the training camp after determining that both he and the ISIL fighters at these facilities were planning external attacks on US and other Western interests in the region," said Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook. "We see what's happening in Iraq and Syria and we believe that these fighters in Libya posed a threat to our national security interests." He said the strikes were carried out "with the knowledge of Libyan authorities" but declined to confirm exactly who had been informed. Ironically, the Islamist-led rebel government in Tripoli said it supported the air-strikes, while the internationally recognized government exiled to Libya's east condemned them. (Libya Herald, Feb. 20; CNN, BBC News, Feb. 19)
Libya: mysterious air-strikes on Derna
Unidentified warplanes or drones bombed Libya's eastern city of Derna Feb. 7, reportedly hitting Shura Council locations. Shura Council sources confirmed to local media that two of their fighters were killed. A woman and her child were also among dead—by some accounts, killed in a strike on a hospital in the city. A wing of the city's al-Wehda hospital was said to be "completely destroyed." The Shura Council is aligned with the Islamist-led Libya Dawn coalition that controls most of Libya's west, and has been battling ISIS forces for control of the city. (Libya Observer, Reuters, AFP, Feb. 7) Derna is an Islamist-controlled enclave in eastern Libya, which is mostly controlled by the more secularist "official" government. The "official" government last month rejected a UN-brokered deal to unite the two rival regimes—both of which are now threatend by the growing ISIS presence in the country.
Forgotten history: Muslims who sheltered Jews
The Independent on Feb. 3 reports on a very encouraging project organized by a group calling itself I Am Your Protector—"a community of people who speak up and stand up for each other across religion, race, gender and beliefs"—to highlight the often forgotten stories of Muslims who helped Jews during the Holocaust. With interfaith ceremonies in several European and American cities on Holocaust Memorial Day, Jan. 27, IAYP celebrated the lives of such figures as Abdol Hossein Sardari, the "Iranian Schindler" who as a diplomat helped Persian Jews escape from wartime France by issuing passports and letters of transit. He was able to convince Nazi and Vichy authorities that Jugutis (Persian Muslims descended from Jews) should not be considered "racial" Jews—and was then able to secure travel documents for actual Jews under cover of being Jugutis. A similar personage is Selahattin Ulkumen, a Turkish diplomat in Nazi-occupied Greece, who interceded with the Germans to allow Jews of Turkish origin escape to neutral Turkey.
Tunisia: progressive forces still under attack
The Tunisia Quartet civil activist group was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on Oct. 9 for its pivotal role in channeling the country's revolution in a secular and democratic direction. The Quartet was formed in the summer of 2013, composed of four civil society groups—the General Union of Tunisian Workers (UGTT); the Tunisian League of Human Rights; the Bar Association; and the Tunisian Confederation of Industry, Trade and Handicrafts. It led what is called the National Dialogue, bringing together the country's fiercely adversarial political parties to forge a new democratic process. The groups opened the dialogue process amid an alarming political crisis, marked by political assassinations and turmoil. As other Arab countries were descending into civil war, Tunisia came back form the brink, adopting a secular constitution, thanks to a "vibrant civil society with demands for respect for basic human rights," in the words of the Nobel Prize Committee. (HRW, Oct. 9)
'Narco-jihadist' threat seen in North Africa
With ISIS in control of a chunk of Libya and Tunisia militarizing after a deadly terrorist attack, an article appears in the United Arab Emirates' The National warning of a "narco-jihadist" threat in North Africa. The commentary by Abdelkader Cheref, a professor at the State University of New York, warns that "huge quantities of Moroccan hashish transit through the Sahara where so-called narco-jihadists, who control a triangle of no-man's land between northern Mali and Niger, eastern Mauritania, southern Algeria and Libya, smuggle the shipments to Europe. There are mounting concerns regarding the links between Moroccan drug barons and narco-jihadists linked to Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa."
Tunisia parliament approves new anti-terror law
Tunisia's parliament on July 25 voted to approve a new anti-terror law despite strong criticism from NGOs and human rights groups. The law, which replaces 2003 legislation passed under the dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, was adopted following a June attack in Sousse and a March attack on Tunisia's national museum, both claimed by the Islamic State. The adoption of the law came after three days of parliamentary debate and a vote of 174-0 with 10 abstentions. Though the law has been hailed by some as a great step towards making the country safer, Human Rights Watch claims that it will "open the way to prosecuting political dissent as terrorism, give judges overly broad powers and curtail lawyers' ability to provide an effective defense." Part of the concern for the bill, advocacy groups say, comes from the law's vague definition of terrorist crimes and its failure to provide enough protection for the rights of defendants. Leftist opposition members also contend that the law does not distinguish between acts of terror and protests.
ISIS coordinated attacks from France to Kuwait?
Seemingly coordinated attacks left over 140 dead across four countries June 26, in what social media users are dubbing "Bloody Friday." In France, an assailant drove his van into a factory in Saint-Quentin-Fallavier, outside Lyon, causing an explosion that killed 37 and wounded a similar number. His boss, the owner of a delivery firm, was found beheaded alongside flags containing Islamic inscriptions in Arabic. (BBC News) At least 39, mostly foreigners, were killed and nearly as many injured as a lone gunman opened fire on a beach in the Tunisian resort town of Sousse before being gunned down himself. (BBC News) In Somalia, dozens of soldiers were killed as al-Shabaab overran an African Union base in the village of Lego, northwest of Mogadishu, (The Guardian) And an explosion tore through a Shi'ite mosque in Kuwait City after Friday prayers, killing at least eight and wounding several others. (Al Jazeera) The attacks come amid the holy month of Ramadan, and days before the anniversary of the declaration of a "caliphate" by ISIS.
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