French warplanes on Feb. 2 carried out air-strikes in the remaining pocket of Mali's far north still under rebel control—but exactly which rebels remains unclear. The air-strikes apparently targeted rebel bases in Tessalit—a mountainous area near the Algerian border—and outside Kidal, the last major town still in rebel hands. (See map.) French forces claim to have captured Kidal's airport on Jan. 30, as prelude to taking the town, following the pattern in Timbuktu days earlier. But one day before that, the secular Tuareg rebels of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) claimed to have seized Kidal from jihadist forces. The MNLA have portrayed their advance into Kidal as part of a coordinated campaign against the "terrorists"; however, the fate of Kidal could be the test of whether there is any place for Tuareg autonomy in the new order.
Lawyers for Guantánamo Bay detainee Abu Zubaydah on Jan. 28 asked the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) to rule on whether Poland violated their client's rights by aiding the US in detaining and allegedly torturing Zubaydah in a secret CIA prison. Zubaydah, a top al-Qaeda suspect, alleges that he was transferred to Poland and subjected to "enhanced interrogation techniques." An investigation into the prison has been ongoing in Poland since 2008, but Zubaydah's lawyers argued that it has made no noticeable effort to bring any perpetrators to justice. The letter is notice that an application for a hearing will be filed.
The US military is preparing to establish a drone base in "northwest Africa"—likely be located in Niger along the eastern border of Mali, where French forces are currently waging a campaign against jihadist rebels, anonymous officials told the New York Times Jan. 28. The base would supposedly facilitate intelligence gathering by unarmed surveillance drones on al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and related militant networks. If the plan is approved, up to 300 US military personnel and contractors could be sent to staff the base.
Defense lawyers for the five accused 9-11 conspirators petitioned a US military judge at Guantánamo Bay on Jan. 28 to preserve the prisons where the defendants were held as evidence. The defendants claim that they were tortured during their time held in secret CIA prisons. This is one of the many issues that are set to be litigated when pretrial hearings begin Monday at the war crimes tribunal taking place at the Guantanamo Bay US Naval Base in Cuba. Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, accused of planning the 9-11 attacks, is among those set to stand trial. Lawyers for the defendants have requested documents from the White House and Justice Department that authorized the CIA to move suspected al-Qaeda members across borders after 9-11 and keep them in secret prisons for interrogations. Defense lawyers will argue that the defendants were subjected to illegal pre-trial punishment. The prosecution maintains that it will not use any information in trial that was obtained through torture or other techniques that violate US or international law.
The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on Jan. 25 vacated the conspiracy conviction of Ali Hamza Ahmad Suliman al-Bahlul (HRW profile), former media secretary of Osama bin Laden. The DC Circuit ruled that the military tribunal that convicted al-Bahlul of conspiracy in 2007 erred because a Guantánamo prisoner could not be convicted of conspiracy unless his crime took place after 2006. The court explained that the Military Commissions Act of 2006 codified conspiracy as a war crime, but did not apply to crimes committed before the MCA was passed. Al-Bahlul was captured in 2001. The US has 90 days to appeal the DC Circuit's decision to the US Supreme Court.
Pakistan's Foreign Affairs Minister Hina Rabbani Khar on Jan. 22 condemned US drone attacks as a violation of Pakistan's sovereignty and international law. Khar stated that the drone attacks are "counterproductive" and that she plans to discuss the issue with the US and its ambassador to Pakistan. Earlier this month, retired general Stanley McChrystal expressed similar concerns cautioning against the overuse of drone attacks and stating that their use breeds resentment around the world. US President Barack Obama, who personally approves each drone strike against suspected terrorists, is expected to sign off on a manual which will establish rules for the administration's targeted killing program. However, the administration's counter-terrorism manual will exempt drone strikes against al-Qaeda and Taliban targets in Pakistan from being bound by the new rules.
Algerian military forces on Jan. 17 launched an assault on the Amenas gas complex in the interior Sahara, where Islamists were holding dozens of hostages. Nearly 50 were killed in the raid, including 35 hostages, according to the spokesman of the militant group—variously named as "Battalion of the Masked" or "Signatories for Blood"—in a call to the Mauritanian news agency ANI. An Algerian government official called the number "exaggerated." Veteran jihadist fighter Mokhtar Belmokhtar AKA "Laaouar" or "Lawar" (the One-Eyed) claimed responsibility for attacking the complex, jointly operated by BP, Norway's Statoil and Algerian parastatal Sonatrach. Belmokhtar was until recently a leader of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), but was pushed out of the group late last year in a factional split. He has been blamed for previous abductions and the killings of both Algerians and foreigners.
Amid sketchy and conflicting reports of how much territory the jihadists have gained in their southern thrust and to what extent last week's French air-strikes have halted it, BBC News tells us Jan. 16 that French ground forces are now engaged in the battle for the town of Diabaly, just 220 miles north of Mali's capital, Bamako. A convoy of 50 armored vehicles left Bamako overnight for Diabaly, seemingly a joint force of French and Malian troops. French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said: "Today, the ground forces are being deployed. Until now, we had made sure there were a few ground forces in Bamako to keep our people safe... Now French ground forces are heading up north."