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Posts tagged ‘Sahara Land of Mali’

French president says 33 jihadists killed in central Mali

December 21, 2019

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast (AP) — French forces have killed 33 Islamic extremists in central Mali, French President Emmanuel Macron said Saturday. He made the announcement on the second day of his three-day trip to West Africa that has been dominated by the growing threat posed by jihadist groups.

In a tweet, Macron said he was “proud of our soldiers who protect us.” Two Malian gendarmes also were rescued in the operation, he said. France has some 4,500 military personnel in West and Central Africa, much of which was ruled by France during colonialism. The French led a military operation in 2013 to dislodge Islamic extremists from power in several major towns across Mali’s north.

In the ensuing years the militants have regrouped and pushed further into central Mali, where Saturday morning’s operation was carried out. On Friday evening, Macron met with French military personnel stationed in Ivory Coast, which shares a long border with volatile Mali and Burkina Faso. Later in the day Saturday he is to highlight a new effort being launched: The International Academy to Fight Terrorism will focus on regional strategies and training those involved in the fight against extremism, according to the French presidency.

France: Military helicopters in Mali crash not under fire

November 29, 2019

PARIS (AP) — France’s army chief of staff is dismissing an Islamic State group affiliate’s claim that it caused a helicopter collision in Mali that killed 13 soldiers. Gen. Francois Lecointre on Friday told French radio RFI that no shots were fired at the helicopters. The Islamic State in the Greater Sahara has claimed responsibility but offered no evidence.

Lecointre said complex coordination during a combat operation was the cause of Monday night’s accident in the West African nation. He said the helicopters’ flight data recorders will provide more details, saying the soldiers’ families are owed the truth about what happened.

It was France’s highest military death toll in nearly four decades. The crash drew global attention to an emerging front for IS-linked groups as IS loses strength in Syria and Iraq.

French defense minister visits Mali after 13 soldiers killed

November 27, 2019

BAMAKO, Mali (AP) — France’s defense minister Florence Parly arrived in northern Mali on Wednesday after a helicopter collision killed 13 French soldiers fighting Islamic State group-linked extremists, while some in the West African country debated France’s military presence.

The Monday crash on a moonless night led to France’s highest military death toll in nearly four decades. An investigation has begun into the cause. The military has said the helicopters were flying very low while supporting French commandos on the ground near the border with Niger.

Some in Mali in recent weeks have loudly criticized the French military’s presence as the extremist threat grows and spreads into neighboring countries. Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced this year, with well over 100 Malian troops killed in the past two months alone.

Some in Mali even questioned whether the helicopter collision was an accident. In the capital, Bamako, resident Mamadou Fofana mused that it could have been a way to calm the protests and revive “compassion” for the country’s former colonizer.

Others disagreed. “France is a serious state with a reputation in the aeronautic world,” said another Bamako resident, Seydou Touré. And Mali’s President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita said in a statement that “Mali knows what this is costing the country to send its children to the Sahel in defense of this cause, the cause of peace.”

France’s operation in West and Central Africa is its largest overseas military mission and involves 4,500 personnel. The deaths draw new attention to a worrying front in the global fight against extremism, one in which France and local countries have pleaded for more support.

French government spokeswoman Sibeth Ndiaye said French President Emmanuel Macron addressed the military operation during Wednesday’s weekly cabinet meeting. Macron stressed that it aims at “enhancing our own security” and providing “important support” to African countries, Ndiaye said.

A national tribute ceremony will take place Monday at the Invalides monument in Paris. Residents were bringing flowers, lighting candles and writing condolences notes at the town halls of Gap, Pau, Varces and Saint-Christol, where the soldiers were based.

French centrist senator Jean-Marie Bockel’s son was among those killed. Bockel told French news broadcaster BFM TV that his son, Pierre-Emmanuel Bockel, was on his fourth tour to Mali. He was “proud of his mission because he knew that … if the French military leaves (Mali) tomorrow, this is chaos.”

Most French politicians have praised France’s military operation in the Sahel as key in the global fight against extremism. U.S. President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, said in a tweet that he is saddened at the news and that the U.S. sends its condolences to France and the families of those who died.

Corbet reported from Paris.

Mali’s president wins runoff vote with more than 67 percent

August 16, 2018

BAMAKO, Mali (AP) — Mali’s President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita won a second five-year term in the turbulent West African nation with more than 67 percent of the vote in a runoff election, the Ministry of Territorial Administration said Thursday.

Opposition leader Soumaila Cisse received over 32 percent of the vote in Sunday’s runoff that had an estimated turnout of 34 percent amid threats of violence from extremist groups. The turnout dropped from the first round, in which nearly 43 percent of voters made it to the polls.

The constitutional court must approve the results by Aug. 22. “We are very happy for this well-earned victory for our president,” said Mahamadou Camara, spokesman for Keita. “Malians have expressed a choice which had already been evident since the first round. Our candidate came in first. We are not scared of a post-election crisis.”

Cisse supporters gathered in the capital, Bamako, shouting in disappointment. The 68-year-old opposition leader has blamed Keita for the country’s insecurity, and his party alleged fraud in the first round and warned against it in the runoff. It was not immediately clear whether the party would challenge the runoff’s results in court.

“We are not in agreement with these results. It’s Soumaila Cisse who won, and we will march in protest because IBK stole our victory,” said 33-year-old Oumar Toure, referring to the president by his initials.

Cisse’s campaign director, Tiebile Drame, urged supporters to protest. “Nothing was spared by the supporters of the regime to divert the vote of the Malians. We are launching a strong call for citizen mobilization to exert popular, peaceful and democratic pressure to uphold the Malian vote,” Drame said.

The 73-year-old president leads a nation that has grown more insecure since he beat Cisse in a second-round election in 2013, the same year that French-backed forces pushed extremists in the north from their strongholds. He took power the year after a military coup ushered in an era of chaos that allowed the extremists to flourish.

The extremists linked to both al-Qaida and the Islamic State organization have been staging more brazen attacks that have spread into central Mali. Deadly communal clashes between ethnic groups and accusations of heavy-handed counterterror operations have caused even deeper tensions and mistrust of the state.

In northern and central Mali more than 50 polling stations had closed before noon on Sunday because of threats by extremists, according to the Citizen Observation Pool of Mali which had more than 2,000 observers.

The observers also reported several incidents of violence on voting day, including the killing of a village chairman and the harassment of at least four election workers. A number of polling stations were burned. In Bamako, voting was also hindered by rains.

Diplomats have called for calm and respect for the election results, with the United Nations urging the use of “legal and constitutional channels to settle disputes.”

Malians vote in presidential runoff amid security concerns

August 12, 2018

BAMAKO, Mali (AP) — Malians are voting Sunday in a second round presidential election to determine if incumbent Ibrahim Boubacar Keita will remain in office in this sprawling West African nation threatened by rising extremist violence. He faces off against opposition leader Soumaila Cisse.

Sunday’s polls opened to light rain and light turnout. Many worry that the vote could be marred by violence. In the July 29 first-round presidential vote, extremists killed three election workers and destroyed some voting materials.

Nearly 43 percent of voters made it to the polls last month and despite the relatively low turnout officials called the vote well-conducted. Mali has grown more insecure since Keita beat Cisse in a second round election in 2013.

Extremists are staging more bold attacks that have spread to central Mali, where both Islamic State and al-Qaida-linked militants are present. Deadly communal clashes between ethnic groups and accusations of heavy-handed counterterror operations have caused even deeper tensions and mistrust of the state.

Still, a second term for Keita, 73, seems likely. He received 41.7 percent of the vote in the first round from a field of 24 candidates and has gained endorsements from some other candidates. Cisse, 68, who placed second in the first round with nearly 18 percent of the vote, has blamed Keita for insecurity, violence and corruption. His opposition party also alleges there was voting fraud in July. Cisse has not received major endorsements from failed candidates but does have the backing of a popular spiritual leader Mohamed Ould Bouye Haidara.

“This time, I have a good feeling,” Cisse has said. His campaign director Tiebile Drame charged there were cases of stuffing of ballot boxes in several northern locations. However the constitutional court on Wednesday said it has registered more than 10 requests from the opposition over various anomalies in the first round, but most were declared inadmissible.

On Saturday, the opposition organized a march “to warn against the fraud.” It’s likely voter turnout will remain low. Some people have fled areas of violence until the vote is over. In central Mali, attacks have become more frequent amid communal clashes as neighbors suspect one another of being recruited by extremist groups. Meanwhile, Malian soldiers in recent months have been accused of abuses, including extrajudicial killings, during counterterror operations.

On Wednesday, armed men attacked the Boni prefecture, according to a Malian security official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not permitted to speak to the press. The armed men killed the prefect’s secretary.

Malian authorities have tried to reassure the public and encourage them to go to the polls for the second round. Residents in central Mali, however, have said they don’t see the increased security. Many in the municipalities of Pignariba, Lowel-Gueou and Bara-Sara have said they likely won’t be able to vote.

Mali votes in presidential election amid insecurity

July 29, 2018

BAMAKO, Mali (AP) — Thousands of Malians voted in presidential elections Sunday in the capital, but others struggled in parts of the country’s north where some ballot boxes were burned and in the central region where voters feared threats by extremist groups.

Voters have expressed concern about being targeted after al-Qaida’s Mali branch have warned for months against going to the polls. Deadly communal clashes between ethnic groups and accusations of heavy-handed counterterror operations have complicated what President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita hopes will be an election victory leading him to a second term.

The 73-year-old, who was elected in 2013, faces 23 candidates in the first round. As he voted in Bamako, Keita commended Malians on a successful and peaceful day of voting. “It is a real pleasure for me to perform this citizen act, and it is the start of victory for the people of Mali, who have voted in calm and serenity,” he said. “This vote will have demonstrated our democratic maturity and our status as a great people.”

His main challenger is 68-year-old Soumaila Cisse, his rival in 2013, who has criticized the president for not addressing Mali’s rising insecurity. No polling stations opened in some central Mali Fulani villages under the control of jihadists, including Yamassadiou and Onde. And despite the presence of Mali’s army in Boulikessi, stations didn’t open there, said a security official in the region who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t permitted to speak to the press.

Only a few stations were closed in Douentza district in Mali’s central Mopti region, where armed men kidnapped the head of a polling station in Gandamia village, the official said. Though that particular station reopened, people fear going to the polls.

Opposition leader Cisse, who voted in his village, Niafounke in the Timbuktu region, said that in Dianke, ballot boxes were taken away. He also said that ballot materials for another village Berre, remained in Timbuktu.

“Despite the difficulties of insecurity and transport, it was a duty for me to come and vote here with the people who trust me,” Cisse said. “Malians must vote, it is very important. Each Malian must also be vigilant against attempts of electoral fraud. There must be transparency.”

Several political parties have expressed doubts about a valid election after duplicate and fictitious polling stations were listed on the electoral commission’s website. The government and the electoral commission have promised a smooth vote, but many in Mali are still worried about postelection violence should Keita win in the first round.

“I voted, but all that people are saying is worrying me. I do hope there won’t be an election crisis,” said 67-year-old Ibrahim Traore. More than 8 million voters are registered. If no candidate wins more than 50 percent in the first round, Malians will vote in a second round on Aug. 12.

Experts say Mali is less secure than in 2013, when French-backed forces pushed extremists in the north from their strongholds. A more assertive response by Mali’s security forces to the attacks has led to accusations by human rights groups of extrajudicial killings. In some areas neighbors have turned on each other, amid suspicions of influence by extremist groups.

Oumar Toure, a leader of a local civic association in Mopti, said things have shifted there. “The current president IBK considers Mopti region his enemy, and he left it … that’s why all the insecurity of the north has come to settle here,” said Toure. “In Mopti, it’s the law of the strongest.”

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on Malians to maintain a peaceful course and said in a statement Saturday he was encouraged by a peaceful campaigning period, despite security challenges in the north and center.

“The Secretary-General urges all political actors in Mali to commit to making this poll a peaceful, free and transparent process, and to resolve any possible dispute through the appropriate institutions in accordance with the law,” his statement said.

Meanwhile, Iyad Ag Ghaley, the leader of al-Qaida’s Mali branch known by its French acronym JNIM, sent a message on Telegram and Twitter saying that his organization opposes the elections.

AP writer Carley Petesch in Dakar, Senegal contributed

Gunmen attack resort in Mali’s capital, killing 2

June 19, 2017

BAMAKO, Mali (AP) — Jihadis attacked a hotel resort Sunday in Mali’s capital, taking hostages at a spot popular with foreigners on the weekends. More than 30 people managed to escape though at least two people were killed, authorities said.

Moussa Ag Infahi, director of the national police, told The Associated Press that three of the assailants had been killed while a fourth escaped. Gunfire first rang out at the Campement Kangaba on the outskirts of Bamako in the late afternoon, according to a security guard who was working at the time.

Mahamadou Doumbia said a militant on a motorcycle entered the area around 3:40 p.m. and cried “Allah Akbar” before jumping off and running toward the pool area. “Then a car with three jihadis entered the resort and they started to fire their weapons,” he said. “A French soldier who had come for the weekend but had his gun shot and wounded” a jihadi.

Mali’s security minister later issued a statement confirming at least two deaths, one of which was a dual French-Gabonese citizen. As night fell, witnesses saw smoke rising from the Campement Kangaba, which features three swimming pools and is a popular escape from the Malian heat. It was not immediately clear what was burning, although extremists in other attacks have set cars ablaze.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, which took place amid the final week of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. In predominantly Muslim Mali, people have been fasting from sunrise to sundown for three weeks.

Sunday’s violence came about a week after the U.S. State Department warned of possible attacks on Western diplomatic missions and other locations in Bamako that Westerners frequent. A U.N. official who spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to journalists said those at the resort when the attack began included people affiliated with the French military mission, as well as the U.N. and European Union missions in the country.

Religious extremism in Mali once was limited to northern areas, prompting the French military in 2013 to lead a military operation to oust jihadis from power in the major towns in the north. But the militants have continued targeting Malian forces and peacekeepers, making it the deadliest U.N. mission in the world.

There are no French troops based in Bamako, but about 2,000 French troops are based in northern Mali fighting Islamic extremists. French President Emmanuel Macron was informed about the attack and was following the events carefully, according to an official in his office.

In recent years, the extremists have become even more brazen, attacking sites frequented by Westerners. In March 2015, five people died when militants hit a popular restaurant in the capital. A devastating attack on the Radisson Blu Hotel in Bamako later that year left 20 dead – six Malians and 14 foreigners.

That attack was jointly claimed by both the regional al-Qaida affiliate and a group known as Al Mourabitoun, which was founded by Moktar Belmoktar after he fell out with al-Qaida leaders. In a video released in March, jihadis said those two were joining together along with two Mali-based terror groups.

Associated Press writers Krista Larson in Dakar, Senegal, and Angela Charlton in Paris contributed.

Al-Qaeda-linked group claims deadly UN base attack in Mali


LONDON – A powerful Al-Qaeda-linked group on Friday claimed an attack on a United Nations camp that killed three peacekeepers in Kidal in Mali’s troubled north.

The Group to Support Islam and Muslims, a fusion of three Malian jihadist groups with previous Al-Qaeda links, posted a statement on its Telegram channel saying it had targeted the UN base “with a set of mortar shells”, wounding soldiers and causing significant material damage, the SITE extremism monitor reported.

The UN mission in Mali, MINUSMA, said earlier on Friday their Kidal camp “came under heavy rocket/mortar fire” and “a little later a position nearby was attacked” outside their base, killing three peacekeepers and wounding eight more.

The Group to Support Islam and Muslims, also known as Jamaat Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimeen in Arabic, is a fusion of three Malian jihadist groups with previous Al-Qaeda links formed in March.

Led by the Malian jihadist Iyad Ag Ghaly, a former leader of the Ansar Dine Islamists, the group has claimed multiple attacks on domestic and foreign forces since its formation.

The UN mission said it “condemned in the strongest terms these cowardly attacks against its personnel and the danger they cause for the civilian population.”

The attack is just the latest to target the 12,000-strong force in the west African nation. Guinean and Chadian soldiers make up the majority of troops stationed at the Kidal camp.

MINUSMA began work in 2013, providing security and assisting Malian troops struggling to keep the country safe. It has been targeted constantly by jihadists, with dozens of peacekeepers killed.

Northern Mali fell to jihadist groups linked to Al-Qaeda in March 2012, including Ansar Dine, and although these forces were driven out of key towns by a French-led military intervention the following year, the Islamists have now spread further south.

Since 2015, jihadists have targeted Mali’s center and their activities have spilled over into neighboring countries including Niger and Burkina Faso.

Their last attack killed two peacekeepers on May 23 near Aguelhok, near the border with Algeria, while a Liberian peacekeeper was killed earlier in May close to Timbuktu.

Both attacks were also claimed by the Group to Support Islam and Muslims.

France on Tuesday asked the UN Security Council to authorize the deployment of a five-nation African military force to buttress the fight against jihadists in the Sahel region, with its base in Mali.

The force would be under a separate command from MINUSMA and France’s own counter-terror force in the Sahel region, but will be backed by the UN and European Union.

Source: Middle East Online.


Pope names cardinals for Laos, Mali, Sweden, Spain, Salvador

May 21, 2017

VATICAN CITY (AP) — In a surprise announcement Sunday, Pope Francis named new cardinals for Spain, El Salvador and three countries where Catholics are a tiny minority: Mali, Laos and Sweden. “Their origin, from different parts of the world, manifests the universality of the Church spread out all over the Earth,” Francis said, speaking from the window of the Apostolic Palace to thousands of faithful in St. Peter’s Square.

The five churchmen chosen are Monsignor Jean Zerbo, archbishop of Bamako, Mali, where he has been involved in peace efforts amid Islamist extremism; Monsignor Juan Jose Omella, archbishop of Barcelona, Spain; Monsignor Anders Arborelius of Stockholm, who became a Catholic at the age of 20; Monsignor Louis-Marie Ling Mangkhanekhoun, apostolic vicar of Pakse, Laos; and Monsignor Gregorio Rosa Chavez, an auxiliary bishop who works as a parish pastor in San Salvador, El Salvador.

Francis will formally elevate the five to cardinal’s rank in a ceremony at the Vatican on June 28. Then the new “princes of the church,” as the red-hatted, elite corps of churchmen who elect popes are known, will co-celebrate Mass with Francis the next day, the Feast Day of Saints Peter and Paul, an important Vatican holiday.

Since being elected pontiff in 2013, Francis has made a point of visiting his flock in places where Catholics are in the minority, as well as of working to improve relations between churches and among believers of different faiths.

His brief pilgrimage last year to Sweden, where Lutherans are the Christian majority, was hailed by some as instrumental in helping to improve relations between the two churches. While there, he joined Lutheran leaders in a common commemoration of the Protestant Reformation that divided Europe five centuries ago.

Arborelius, who is 67, converted to Catholicism when he was 20. In 1998, when he was consecrated as a bishop in Stockholm’s Catholic cathedral, Arborelius became Sweden’s first Catholic bishop, of Swedish origin, since the times of the Reformation,

In Mali, a country bloodied by Islamist extremism, Muslims constitute the predominant religious majority. Zerbo’s clerical resume reveals him to be a churchman working for reconciliation in society, a virtue repeatedly stressed by Francis. The Vatican noted that Zerbo, 73, who was named an auxiliary bishop of Bamako in 1998 and 10 years later was made that city’s archbishop, has played a role in peace negotiations.

Extremists attacked a hotel in Bamako in 2015, killing 19 people. Last month, the U.N. peacekeeping chief for Mali called the security situation there alarming, warning that extremist groups operating under the al-Qaida banner were carrying out more sophisticated attacks and Islamic State militants were slowly making inroads.

There has been slow progress in implementing a peace deal reached in June 2015 between Mali’s government, Tuareg separatists and armed groups in the north. In Laos, the tiny Catholic community has often struggled to persevere, including under communist-led rule. Mangkhanekhoun, 73, was ordained a priest in 1972 and has served as a bishop since 2001. The Vatican paid tribute to his work in visiting faithful in mountain villages. Since early this year, he has served as apostolic administrator in Vientiane.

Catholicism has been the majority religion in Spain and in El Salvador, although in parts of Central and South America, evangelical Protestant sects have been gaining converts from the Catholic church.

The resume of Chavez, 74, also includes credentials valued by the pope, who has made serving the poor a key focus of the Catholic church’s mission. Chavez heads the Latin American division of Caritas, the Catholic charity. He was appointed an auxiliary bishop in 1982 for San Salvador, where he now will be based as a cardinal after serving as a parish pastor in the city.

Chavez worked closely with the late Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero, who during El Salvador’s civil war was shot to death by a right-wing death squad while saying Mass in 1980. Pope Francis has denounced Catholic clerics who “defamed” Romero after the slaying, a campaign that delayed Romero’s eventual beatification.

Francis’ pick for the Spain cardinal’s post, Omella, 71, worked as a missionary in Zaire earlier in his career and serves on the Vatican’s powerful Congregation of Bishops office. Since December 2015, he has been archbishop of Barcelona.

In announcing his selections, Francis expressed hope that the new cardinals with their work and “their advice will sustain me more intensely in my service as bishop of Rome, universal pastor of the church.” In other remarks to the faithful in the square, Francis referred to the situation of another Catholic minority — Chinese whose loyalty to the pope has put them at odds with authorities of the state-sanctioned Catholic church in China, and sometimes brought persecution.

He prayed that Catholics in China would be able to bring their “personal contribution for the communion among believers and harmony in the entire society.” Francis is eager to see improved Vatican-China relations. Both sides have for decades been at odds over Chinese authorities’ insistence that they have the right to appoint bishops, a prerogative the Vatican says only belongs to the pope.

He urged Catholics in China to “stay open to meeting and dialogue, always.”

Germany approves more soldiers for UN mission in Mali

January 11, 2017

BERLIN (AP) — The German government has approved an expansion of the country’s military deployment in Mali, with Berlin sending more helicopters to support the U.N. peacekeeping mission there. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Cabinet on Wednesday approved a one-year extension of the mission in Mali. Under the new mandate starting Feb. 1, which requires parliamentary approval, the maximum number of German soldiers in Mali will be raised from 650 to 1,000.

At present, Germany has about 530 soldiers in the U.N. peacekeeping force taking care of reconnaissance and other duties. It plans to send extra transport and combat helicopters, but not until March at the earliest and for a limited period. Those aircraft will replace helicopters being withdrawn by the Netherlands.

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