North Africa Theater
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."
A court in Tripoli sentenced Saif al-Islam Qaddafi, son of former Libyan leader Moammar Qaddafi, and eight others to death for war crimes dating back to the 2011 revolution. Twenty-three other defendants were handed sentences ranging from five years to life in prison. The sentence for Saif al-Islam was handed down in absentia, as he is currently detained by a militia in the city of Zintan. Saif al-Islam and others were accused of suppressing peaceful protests, inciting violence, and murdering protesters. The sentences have been criticized by many international advocacy groups, including Human Rights Watch, which stated the trial was "undermined by serious due process violations" and failed to deliver justice.
Tunisia's parliament on July 25 voted to approve a new anti-terror law despite strong criticism from NGOs and human rights groups. The law, which replaces 2003 legislation passed under the dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, was adopted following a June attack in Sousse and a March attack on Tunisia's national museum, both claimed by the Islamic State. The adoption of the law came after three days of parliamentary debate and a vote of 174-0 with 10 abstentions. Though the law has been hailed by some as a great step towards making the country safer, Human Rights Watch claims that it will "open the way to prosecuting political dissent as terrorism, give judges overly broad powers and curtail lawyers' ability to provide an effective defense." Part of the concern for the bill, advocacy groups say, comes from the law's vague definition of terrorist crimes and its failure to provide enough protection for the rights of defendants. Leftist opposition members also contend that the law does not distinguish between acts of terror and protests.
Warring parties in Libya signed a preliminary UN-sponsored agreement on July 11, agreeing to form a unity government and cease fighting. However, one of the main parties, based in Tripoli [the General National Congress and its allied Libya Dawn militia], refused to sign the deal. Under the Libyan Political Agreement, signed in Skhirat, Morocco, the country will get a one-year government of "national accord" with one prime minister and two deputies. The government would also include a house of representatives. The parties have not agreed on more specific details. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon voiced encouragement after the agreement was signed, stating that he is looking forward to the "speedy conclusion of the full agreement and its implementation."