WW4 Report

New Qaeda affiliate claims Damascus attack

A new Qaeda affiliate in Syria has claimed responsibility for a March 11 double bomb attack targeting Shi'ite pilgrims in Damascus that killed at least 40 Iraqis and wounded 120 more. Footage broadcast by Syrian state TV showed two buses with their windows blown out, the surroundings splattered with blood and littered with lost shoes and clothing. The attack took place near Bab al-Saghir cemetery, named for one of the seven gates of the Old City of Damascus. The pilgrims had arrived to pray at the cemetery after visiting the Sayeda Zeinab shrine outside Damascus, where the grand-daughter of the Prophet Mohammad is said to be buried. In a statement claiming responsibility, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (Liberation of the Levant Organization) said the attack was "a message to Iran" over its support for the Bashar Assad regime. The group is identified as a breakaway faction of Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (the former Nusra Front) that has maintained ties with al-Qaeda. (BBC News, Reuters)

Colombia: peasant strike against coca eradication

For 48 hours Feb. 21-2, hundreds of peasant coca-growers shut down the main highway between the southern Colombian cities of Tumaco and Pasto. The feared anti-riot force, the Mobile Anti-Disturbance Squadron (ESMAD), was finally called in to clear the roadway, using tear-gas and rubber bullets to break up the estimated 1,200 cocaleros. But the highway was repeatedly re-taken by the protesters. The action was called by the newly-formed National Coordinator of Coca, Opium and Marijuana Producers (COCCAM) to oppose the government's renewed "forced eradication" of coca crops in Tumaco municipality. COCCAM called the resumption of forced eradication in the area a betrayal of government commitments under the recent peace accords with the FARC guerilla movement. (Contagio Radio, Feb. 23)

US prepares ground troops for Syria

The Pentagon is dispatching some 2,500 ground combat troops to a staging base in Kuwait, from where they are expected to be mobilized to back up forces fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria. The deployment includes elements of the 82nd Airborne Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team, based at Fort Bragg, NC. About 1,700 troops from the same unit are already overseas, spread between Iraq and Kuwait. (Army Times, March 9) The US currently has only some 500 troops authorized to operate in Syria, predominantly Special Forces, and it is unclear if this new deployment breaches that threshold. However, the US Special Forces in Syria are increasingly tasked with keeping peace between Kurdish and Turkish forces rather than actually fighting ISIS. Special Forces are currently deployed at Manbij in what the Pentagon calls a mission to "reassure and deter"—interpreted as providing a buffer between Kurdish-led and Turkish-led forces, to prevent open conflict between them. (Military Times, March 6)

Mali: Tuareg rebel militias again seize Timbuktu

Installation of an interim authority in Timbuktu, part of a peace deal with Tuareg rebels in Mali's desert north, was blocked as hardline factions erected street barricades across the city March 6. Former rebel leader Boubacar Ould Hamadi was to become head of the interim authority in Timbuktu. The rejectionist factions, holding out for greater autonomy in the region, are led by the Council for Justice in Azawad. Last week, interim authorities were successfully installed in the towns of Kidal and Menaka. But there were also difficulties in Gao, where dozens of armed men briefly occupied the regional assembly building until their demands for greater participation were met. (Reuters, AFP, March 6)

Colombia: terror continues against social leaders

Even as the FARC guerillas begin the disarmament process under Colombia's peace plan, the ongoing wave of deadly violence against social leaders remains unrelenting. On March 5, a brother and sister who were both local leaders in the Independent Agrarian Workers Syndicate of Meta (SINTRAGRIM), José Antonio and Luz Ángela Anzola Tejedor, were slain in attacks two hours apart by unknown gunmen in their village of Mesetas, Meta department. (Contagio Radio, March 6) Both were also followers of the Colombian Communist Party, which issued a statement calling the double murder part of a "counterinsurgency" plan being carried out against social movements in Meta by right-wing paramilitaries with the complicity of authorities. The statement said the terror campaign is aimed at destroying organizations seeking a just social order after implementation of the peace plan. (Prensa Rural, March 8)

Peru: legal persecution of anti-mining activists

A trial opened in Peru's Cajamarca region March 6 against 16 community leaders facing charges for their participation in a 2012 protest against the Conga mining project. According an indictment filed by the 2nd Provincial Criminal Prosecutor's Office of Celendín, the defendants—all local social leaders, including five women—may face up to 36 years in prison if convicted. The case stems from the July 2012 violence in the provinces of Celendín and Bambamarca, in which five protesters were killed by National Police troops. Among the accused is Milton Sánchez Cubas, secretary-general of the Inter-Institutional Platform of Celendín, for whom the Inter-American Court on Human Rights had recently issued "precuationary measures" due to threats on his life.

South Korean farmers protest THAAD deployment

As the US moves ahead with its plans to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system in South Korea, local farmers have launched a protest campaign and lawsuit to halt the installation. Under a land swap deal, South Korean conglomerate Lotte Group is to turn over its golf course in southeastern Seongju county to US Forces Korea (USFK) for installation of the weapon system. In return, the company will receive a parcel of military-owned ground near Seoul. Since the deal was announced in July, local farmers in Seongju and neighboring Gimcheon county have been holding daily protests against the deployment. Fearing that the installation will make the area a potential nuclear target, and that the site's radar system will affect their melon fields, they have been rallying each day outside the site, with signs reading "Bring peace to this land!" and "No THAAD deployment!" With deployment imminent, the farmers have brought a lawsuit, accusing the Defense Ministry of bypassing legally-required procedures, including prior agreement with local communities and an environmental impact assessment. They are also threatening to blockade roads to bar entry of military forces. The area has been flooded with soldiers and riot police, and the deployment site sealed off with barbed wire. (Zoom In Korea, Yonhap, AFP, NPR)

Kurdish forces hand over villages to Assad regime?

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are accused of handing over territory in northern Syria to the Assad regime, in a deal brokered by Russia. The handover of five villages west of Manbij, Aleppo governorate, is the first transfer in what is said to be a developing alliance, made amid a Turkish-rebel offensive in Syria's north. "The handover has taken place," Sharfan Darwish, spokesman for the Manbij Military Council, the SDF's local command, said in a statement reported by Reuters. The development follows the taking of the strategic town of al-Bab by Turkish-led forces. Pro-Assad forces meanwhile advanced south and east of al-Bab, linking with Kurdish-controlled territory for the first time.

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