With two months still to go, deaths of refugees and migrants crossing the Mediterranean so far this year have hit a record high, according to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). Expressing alarm at the situation, UNHCR reported that 3,740 lives had been lost so far in 2016, just short of the 3,771 reported for the whole of 2015. "This is the worst we have ever seen," UNHCR spokesperson William Spindler told a press briefing in Geneva. "From one death for every 269 arrivals last year, in 2016 the likelihood of dying has spiralled to one in 88." Spindler said the high loss of life takes place despite a large overall fall this year in the number of people seeking to cross the Mediterranean to Europe. Last year at least 1,015,078 people made the crossing. This year so far, crossings stand at 327,800.
The White House said July 1 that between 64 and 116 civilians have been killed by drone and other US strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and Libya since Barack Obama took office in 2009. But this first public assessment by the administration put the civilian death toll significantly lower than estimates by various human rights groups, which range as high as 1,000 killed. Obama also signed an executive order outlining US policies to limit civilian casualties, and ostensibly making protection of civilians a central element in US military operations planning. The order requires an annual release of casualty estimates, and says the government should include "credible reporting" by non-government groups when it reviews strikes to determine if civilians were killed.
Amnesty International is demanding the international community take action to address "horrifying" abuses of refugees and migrants in Libya. The June 30 statement warns that EU cooperation on immigration with the UN-recognized Government of National Accord (actually one of three rival governments in Libya) should not go ahead until guarantees for human rights are provided. Testimony gathered from some 90 migrants and refugees who made it to the safety of three camps in the Sicily and Puglia regions of Italy describes how Black Africans are imprisoned and exploited until they could earn their payment to traffickers or have more money sent by relatives back home. "From being abducted, incarcerated underground for months and sexually abused by members of armed groups, to being beaten, exploited or shot at by people smugglers, traffickers or criminal gangs—refugees and migrants have described in harrowing detail the horrors they were forced to endure in Libya," said Magdalena Mughrabi, Amnesty's interim deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa.
Former US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operative Sabrina de Sousa will be extradited to Italy to serve a four-year prison sentence following a ruling by Portugal's Constitutional Court on June 8. De Sousa filed an appeal in April, a last attempt to prevent her extradition to Italy to serve a sentence for her involvement in a US extraordinary renditions program. De Sousa was arrested at a Portuguese airport after she had been convicted in absentia by an Italian court for her part in the 2003 kidnapping and "rendition" of Egyptian terror suspect Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr (AKA Abu Omar). The Portugal Supreme Court rejected her appeal of an extradition order, leaving de Sousa no choice but to argue that her extradition order is unconstitutional. De Sousa was one of 26 Americans convicted in the kidnapping.
Far-right protesters marched through Berlin on May 7 to demand that Chancellor Angela Merkel step down for allowing more than a million migrants and refugees from the Middle East into Germany since last year. But the some 1,000 protesters, chanting "No Islam on German Soil," were confronted by more than five times as many anti-fascist counter-protesters who chanted "Nazis out!" Some anti-immigrant protesters held signs calling Merkel "Volksschaedling"—"enemy of the people," a term used by the Nazis. Riot police separated the two groups. (EuroNews, The Telegraph, Reuters) That same day, dozens of hooded anarchists clashed with riot police who blocked their approach to the Austrian border during a protest against plans to tighten controls to prevent the passage of migrants. Police fired tear-gas to disperse protesters wearing motorcycle helmets and gas-masks who tried to occupy the Alpine Brenner border crossing. Claiming that as many as 1 million migrants are massing in Libya with the aim of crossing into Europe through Italy, Austrian authorities are preparing to build an "emergency fence" on the Italian border. (WP, EuroNews, AP)
Lebanese Shi'ite militant group Hezbollah is laundering money for the "Oficina de Envigado," said to be the successor organization to Colombia's legendary Medellín Cartel, according to the DEA. In a Feb. 1 press release, the agency said that members of Hezbollah's External Security Organization Business Affairs Component (BAC) is part of a transnational drug-trafficking scheme that involves "South American drug cartels, such as La Oficina de Envigado." According to the statement, the BAC uses the "black peso money laundering system" established by the Medellín Cartel to launder profits from European cocaine sales through money exchange offices in Colombia and overseas. "These drug trafficking and money laundering schemes utilized by the Business Affairs Component provide a revenue and weapons stream for an international terrorist organization responsible for devastating terror attacks around the world," said DEA acting deputy administrator Jack Riley.
A court in Lisbon ruled on Jan. 15 that a former CIA operative will be extradited to Italy to serve a seven-year sentence for her involvement in the 2003 kidnapping and "rendition" of Egyptian terror suspect Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr (AKA Abu Omar). Operative Sabrina De Sousa was one of 26 former agents convicted in absentia for the infamous event, and she recently filmed a documentary regarding her long struggle to clear her name. In October officials detained De Sousa in a Portuguese airport without warning and seized her passports pending the court's decision. De Sousa's lawyer expressed his intention to appeal the case to the Supreme Court and move to the Constitutional Court if necessary. De Sousa hopes to receive a pardon from Italian President Sergio Mattarella, who recently pardoned another CIA operative involved in the matter. Mattarella is scheduled to speak with US President Barack Obama in March about various issues, which may include De Sousa's case.
At least two members of Libya's Petroleum Facilities Guard were killed Jan. 4 as ISIS militants attacked the Sidra and Ras Lanouf oil export terminals. Militants launched two suicide car-bomb attacks at the security gate of the Sidra facility in a diversionary strike while another force of up to a dozen vehicles looped south and attacked Ras Lanouf, some 30 kilometers to the east. One of the facility's storage tanks was set ablaze in the assault. The attack comes two weeks after French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian warned that ISIS was planning to seize Libya's oil facilities. Sidra and Ras Lanouf are under control of the internationally recognized government based in Libya's east, but last year were the scene of battles as Libya Dawn forces loyal to the Tripoli-based regime attempted to take the facilities. Sidra and Ras Lanouf lie near the border between the rival regimes' territories They also lie just east of Sirte, the principal ISIS stronghold in Libya. (Libya Herald, BBC News, CBS, Jan. 4)