Horn of Africa

Global terror survey sees surging attacks —again

The US State Department on June 19 released its "Country Reports on Terrorism 2014," finding that the number of terrorist attacks around the world rose by a third in 2014 compared with the previous year. The number of people killed in such attacks rose by 80%, to nearly 33,000. The sharp increase was largely due to the "unprecedented" seizure of territory in Iraq and Syria by ISIS, and the growith of Boko Haram in Nigeria. Terrorist groups used more aggressive tactics in 2014 than in previous years, such as beheadings and crucifixions. ISIS attacks on religious minorities like Christians and Yazidis are cited. Islamic State was particularly lethal. The reports says the June 2014 massacre at a prison in Mosul, Iraq, in which ISIS killed 670 Shi'ite prisoners "was the deadliest attack worldwide since September 11, 2001." The report notes the "central al-Qaeda leadership" has been weakened, but the network's regional affiliates have gained ground in places like Yemen and the Horn of Africa. (BBC News, Reuters, State Department, June 19)

Ethiopia: army 'massacre' of tribespeople

UK-based advocacy group Survival International says it has received reports that violent conflict between Ethiopian soldiers and Hamar pastoralists left dozens dead last month. The Hamar are one of several tribal peoples of the Lower Omo Valley who are subject to the government's policy of "villagization." They are being forcibly relocated to government-created villages along new roads through the region, while their ancestral grazing lands are sold off to investors for commercial plantations. These land-grabs have already led to starvation in parts of the Lower Omo. Tensions have been rising as a result of these evictions; at the end of May, Hamar were reportedly attacked by soldiers with rifles and mortars. Survival says a "news blackout" imposed by the government makes it impossible to know the exact number of casualties, but one observer referred to what took place as a "massacre." The incident follows a pattern of abuses in the Lower Omo, including beatings, rape and arbitrary arrest. One displaced Hamar said, "The government told us that if we don't give in to them we will be slaughtered in public like goats." (Survival International, June 5)

Somalia: women slain in spiralling reprisals

At least seven women have been killed in "barbaric" attacks in Somalia after Shabab insurgents beheaded a soldier's wife, prompting revenge executions of women close to the jihadists, village elders said Dec. 10. The solider's wife was abducted along with a cook for government troops, and both beheaded. "It was horrible, al-Shabab killed two innocent women connected with the government troops," said Aliyow Isack, an elder. In revenge, the widowed soldier and his colleagues rounded up women thought to be the wives of insurgents. "For the death of the two women, they arrested 10 women whom they said were wives of al-Shabab militants, killing five before the elders rescued and freed the rest," Isack reported. A National Security Ministry spokesman admitted to the incident, saying five women had been "arrested as suspects," and that a solider opened fire on them while marching them to a post for detention. "Can you imagine what happened? It was a completely barbaric act against humans," said Mohamed Malim, another elder. "They were innocent women, some of those killed might have been married by force to the gunmen."

Egypt: first FGM trial ends in acquittals

Two men in Egypt were acquitted on charges relating to female genital mutilation (FGM) on Nov. 27. Since the law banning FGM was amended in 2008, this is the only case of FGM that resulted in trial. The charges stemmed from the death of a 13 year-old girl who died last year of an allergic reaction to penicillin, after her father took her to a local doctor for an FGM procedure. The prosecutor charged the doctor with manslaughter and committing the practice of FGM, and charged the girl's father with endangering her life and forcing her to undergo FGM. While FGM is banned in Egypt, the practice continues due to a lack of prosecutions and investigations, in part due to the belief among local authorities that FGM is a private, family issue. In response to the verdicts, Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a report calling for Egyptian authorities to take clear actions to end the practice of FGM by enforcing the law, prosecuting and investigating those who carry out the procedure, and undertaking measures to increase national awareness of the harms of FGM.

UN renews resolution to fight piracy off Somalia

The UN Security Council on Nov. 12 unanimously adopted a resolution renewing its international call to fight piracy off the coast of Somalia. Working under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, resolution 2184 (2014) calls on all able states to provide military forces to repress piracy in the region. The Security Council also continued an exemption on a 1992 arms embargo imposed on Somalia and encouraged states to adopt legal framework to facilitate the prosecution of suspected pirates. Such efforts, both inland and off the coast of Africa, have slowed the frequency of pirate attacks in the area since 2012.

Somalia: Shabab leader dead in US drone strike?

US forces carried out air-strikes against Shabab leader Ahmed Abdi Godane, with casualties reported but uncertainty over the fate of the main target, Somali officials said Sept. 2. Godane was traveling in one of two vehicles hit in apparent drone strike, a member of the Islamist group said. The spokesman would not say whether Godane was among the six militants killed. The two vehicles were heading toward the coastal town of Barawe, Shabaab's main base, when they were hit. The Pentagon confirmed the US military carried out an "operation," and that it was "assessing the results." The US has a large drone base at Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti, and also flies surveillance drones over Somalia from a base in Ethi­o­pia. The Pentagon quietly deployed a small team of advisers to Somalia last October to coordinate operations with African troops fighting to wrest control of the country from Shabab.

Kenya anti-terror police group charged in abuses

Kenya's Anti-Terrorism Police Unit (ATPU) has carried out a series of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances in violation of international laws, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported Aug. 18. Based on interview research conducted between November 2013 and June 2014, terrorism suspects were badly mistreated, killed, beaten, abducted and detained without access to families or lawyers. HRW called on Kenya to thoroughly investigate the allegations and urged the US to suspend donor support to the ATPU. The ATPU has previously come under criticism by other human rights groups. Last year the Kenyan human rights group Muslims for Human Rights (MUHURI) and the Open Society Justice Initiative jointly issued a report, calling on the US and the UK to suspend financial support to the ATPU. The report followed the completion of a new ATPU headquarters in Nairobi in May, which was partially funded by international anti-terror agencies. The facility increased technological capabilities and physical space for the ATPU, whose mission is to coordinate and carry out anti-terrorism operations within Kenya in support of the global war on terror. The unit's primary focus of late is Kenya's second-largest city, Mombasa, as the port city has become a major recruitment target for the al-Qaeda-linked group al-Shabaab, based in Somalia.

Ethiopia charges journalists with terrorism

An Ethiopian court on July 18 charged nine journalists with terrorism and inciting violence under Ethiopia's anti-terrorism law (PDF). The journalists, including six bloggers, were arrested in April and have been prevented from accessing their families or legal counsel since their arrests. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), since the implementation of the anti-terrorism law in 2009, Ethiopian authorities have used it as a tool to limit journalism critical of the government. Human Rights Watch (HRW) has repeatedly called upon the Ethiopian government to repeal the law, alleging that the government stifles the establishment of new media publications.

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