North Africa Theater
The Tunisia Quartet civil activist group was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on Oct. 9 for its pivotal role in channeling the country's revolution in a secular and democratic direction. The Quartet was formed in the summer of 2013, composed of four civil society groups—the General Union of Tunisian Workers (UGTT); the Tunisian League of Human Rights; the Bar Association; and the Tunisian Confederation of Industry, Trade and Handicrafts. It led what is called the National Dialogue, bringing together the country's fiercely adversarial political parties to forge a new democratic process. The groups opened the dialogue process amid an alarming political crisis, marked by political assassinations and turmoil. As other Arab countries were descending into civil war, Tunisia came back form the brink, adopting a secular constitution, thanks to a "vibrant civil society with demands for respect for basic human rights," in the words of the Nobel Prize Committee. (HRW, Oct. 9)
Ahmad al-Mahdi al-Faqi AKA Abu Tourab, a former member of militant group Ansar Dine, was turned over to the International Criminal Court at The Hague by authorities in Niger Sept. 26, accused of war crimes allegedly committed in Timbuktu, Mali, including destruction of religious and historical monuments. He is charged in the destruction of nine mausoleums and a mosque in the historic city in 2012, when an alliance of jihadist militias including Ansar Dine was in control of northern Mali. The entire city of Timbuktu, known as the "City of 333 Saints," is a UNESCO-listed world heritage site. El-Boukhari Ben Essayouti, head of the Timbuktu Cultural Mission, said that al-Mahdi was but one militant who took part in the destruction, and called for his accomplices to be similarly brought to justice. (AFP, BBC News, AP, ICC press release, Sept. 26)
An ISIS suicide squad on Sept. 18 penetrated an air base on the outskirts of Tripoli that serves as the Libyan capital's only working airport in an attack on the Islamist militia that was defending the facility. The four ISIS attackers were killed in the clash, and at least three members of the Special Deterrence Force, which is loyal to the Islamist-led Tripoli-based government. The attack comes as the UN special envoy to Libya, the Spanish diplomat Bernardino Leon, is seeking to broker out a power-sharing deal between the Tripoli government and Libya's recognized government, now exiled in Tobruk. Despite the talks, fighting continues between the rival governments, especially in the contested city of Benghazi. The UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) on Sept. 20 strongly condemned new air-strikes by Tobruk-loyal forces in Benghazi, and called for an immediate ceasefire. "The timing of airstrikes clearly aims at undermining the ongoing efforts to end the conflict," the Mission said of the pervious day's escalation. The statement noted that more than 100,000 have been displaced by the conflict that has raged in the city for over a year now, with residential neighborhoods reduced to rubble. (UN News Centre, Sept. 20; VOA, Sept. 19)
The latest edition of the English-language ISIS magazine Dabiq, released online Sept. 9, contains the predictable parade of perversions. Two men, Norwegian and Chinese nationals, are offered for sale as slaves. The destruction of ancient temples at the Palmyra archaeological site is trumpeted. Child soldiers are glorified as "lion cubs" of the "caliphate." The 9-11 attacks are hailed as the "blessed operations." But it also features an interview with Abul Mughirah al-Qahtani, identified as the "delegated leader" of the Islamic State's Libyan "province," in which he harshly criticizes several rival jihadist outfits, including Ansar al-Sharia, the Abu Salim Martyrs Brigade (ASMB), the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), and the Libyan Dawn coalition.
An independent UN human rights expert on Aug. 21 commended Mauritania for adopting a new law that establishes harsher sentences for slavery crimes, urging full implementation. The law adopted last week by the Mauritanian National Assembly doubles prison terms for slavery convictions, declared slavery a crime against humanity, and created tribunals to handle slavery prosecution cases. UN Special Rapporteur Urmila Bhoola said that the law is an important step on a road map toward eradicating slavery but insisted that "slavery and slavery-like practices can be eradicated only if the existing laws, policies and programs are implemented fully and effectively. This statement comes just one day after a court in Mauritania upheld a two-year prison sentence for Biram Dah Abeid, an anti-slavery activist convicted of inciting trouble and belonging to an unrecognized organization.
Libya's internationally-recognized Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni on Aug. 19 called for international air-strikes against ISIS and other jihadist factions that have seized territory in the country. Al-Thinni said he wants his own ground forces to direct strikes "from an Arab coalition—either nations on their own or in clusters—to eliminate these groups." He also reiterated his call for the UN arms embargo on Libya, in place since the 2011 revolution, to be lifted. Libya is now split between al-Thinni's government in the east and a rival Islamist-led government that controls the capital, Tripoli. (AP, Aug. 20)
Fighting erupted Aug. 15 between Tuareg militias in northern Mali's Kidal region, breaking the ceasefire and threatening peace talks scheduled to resume this week in neighboring Niger. The clashes at Touzek Oued, southeast of Kidal town, pitted rebels under the banner of the Coordination of Azawad Movements (CMA) against the pro-government Platform coalition, which includes the GATIA militia. GATIA leader Fahad ag-Almahamoud claimed his forces had killed some 20 CMA fighters, including rebel leaders. This was denied by CMA representative Almou ag-Mohamed, who said the Platform forces lost many fighters while his forces had lost two, one of whom was probably captured. He added: "Platform wants to sow disorder." Both sides are blaming each other for starting the clashes. The government said it will establish a 20-kilometer "security zone" around Kidal. The CMA, which has been holding out for greater autonomy over the Tuareg region, has still not confirmed that it will attend the new round of peace talks. (AFP, Reuters, UN News Centre, Aug. 17)
With ISIS in control of a chunk of Libya and Tunisia militarizing after a deadly terrorist attack, an article appears in the United Arab Emirates' The National warning of a "narco-jihadist" threat in North Africa. The commentary by Abdelkader Cheref, a professor at the State University of New York, warns that "huge quantities of Moroccan hashish transit through the Sahara where so-called narco-jihadists, who control a triangle of no-man's land between northern Mali and Niger, eastern Mauritania, southern Algeria and Libya, smuggle the shipments to Europe. There are mounting concerns regarding the links between Moroccan drug barons and narco-jihadists linked to Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa."