North Africa Theater
Blogger Cheikh Ould Mohamed of Mauritania was sentenced to death for apostasy on Dec. 25 after a court convicted him of "speaking lightly of the Prophet Mohammed" on websites. The defendant fainted when the ruling was read out in a court in the port town of Nouadhibou, judicial sources told AFP. He was revived and taken to prison. Mohamed says he is repentant, and his lawyer pleaded for leniency. Mauritania has the death penalty, although Amnesty International says it has not carried out any executions since 1987. Sharia law is recognized, but enforcement of strict punishments such as floggings have been rare since the 1980s. (AFP via Al Arabiya, Dec. 25) Supporters have launched a Free Mohamed Cheikh wesbite.
The rapidly escalating civil war in Libya on Dec. 28 saw the first air-strikes on Misrata, the country's third city, since the fall of the Qaddafi regime in 2011. Warplanes under the command of Gen. Khalifa Haftar fired missiles at the city's airport—just 30 minutes before a Turkish Airlines flight was due to leave for Istanbul. The fighter jets went on to attack Libya's largest steel plant and an air force academy near the airport, which are under the control of Islamist forces. (Irish Independent, Dec. 29) The Misrata attacks came days after Egypt (which is said to be backing Gen. Haftar) issued a warning about international terrorist groups using Libyan territory as a staging ground, especially in the remote south. Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said that Nigeria's Boko Haram is among the groups that have established camps in southern Libya. (MENA, Dec. 23)
Gen. David Rodriguez, head of US Africa Command, said Dec. 3 that ISIS has set up training camps in eastern Libya, and that the Pentagon is closely monitoring the situation. He described the ISIS activity as "very small and nascent," with "around a couple hundred" militants were present at the camps. When asked if the Libyan camps are a potential target for US forces, Rodriguez said: "No, not right now." (AFP, Dec. 4) In October, Libya's militant group Ansar al-Sharia declared an "Islamic emirate" in the eastern city of Derna and pledged allegiance to ISIS. A video posted showed a parade in Derna with militants holding ISIS flags and shouting pro-ISIS slogans. (Al Arabiya, Oct. 6) This now makes three international entities that have joined the ISIS franchise.
The US House of Representatives Intelligence Committee on Nov. 21 released a report (PDF) stating that the Obama administration properly responded to the 2012 attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya. The committee, which is led by Republicans, concluded that there was no failure of intelligence and no delay in sending a rescue team. In a statement by committee chairman Mike Rogers, he announced:
Libya's Supreme Court on Nov. 6 declared the UN-backed elected parliament unconstitutional. The ongoing crisis in Libya has created two rival parliaments, one based in the nation's capital Tripoli, and the other, which was declared illegitimate by the high court, based in the northeastern city of Tobruk. The court, in a televised ruling, found that the June 25 election of the House of Representatives and the subsequent appointment of Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni illegal under the country's provisional constitution. The internationally recognized Tobruk-based government fled to the northeast of the country after rival militias forced the government out of Libya's three major cities: Tripoli, Benghazi and Misrata. Tripoli, home of Libya's Supreme Court, has been under the control of the militia group Operation Dawn since August. They have reinstated the previous parliament, the General National Congress (GNC), who brought the challenge before the high court.
French philosopher Bernard Henri Levy was expelled from Tunisia Nov. 1—just 24 hours after his arrival in the country. His visit sparked widespread protests, with the UGTT trade union federation accusing him of "inciting anarchy and encouraging civil wars and terrorism in the Arab world." Met with angry demonstrators at the airport, Levy was reported to have spent most of his one day in Tunis sequestered in a hotel under close police protection, while the judiciary launched an investigation into his visit as a "threat to public order." Middle East Online cited "informed sources" as saying that "BHL" was in Tunis to meet with Libyan factions, adding: "Levy is known for maintaining close ties to Libyan Jihadist formations." Al Chourouq newspaper called Levy "the godfather of civil wars," charging: "His visit to Tunis aims at provoking sedition and causing the failure of next presidential elections."
Rival militias in Libya are committing serious human rights abuses, including war crimes, according to an Amnesty International (AI) report released Oct. 30. According to AI, since July 2013, "militias and armed groups have launched indiscriminate attacks in urban areas of the capital, Warshafana (southwest of Tripoli) and Zawiya with complete disregard for civilians and civilian objects, forcing hundreds of thousands of people to seek protection in safer parts of Libya or across its international borders." The report cites UN High Commission for Refuges data showing that since October of this year 287,000 people have been displaced in the cities of Tripoli and Benghazi and surrounding areas. According to AI,100,000 people are estimated to have fled Libya to neighboring countries. In addition to allegations of indiscriminate attacks on civilian populations, the AI report also contains allegations of widespread civilian kidnappings carried out by all parties to the conflict. Civilians and captured militia members have provided AI with detailed accounts of torture and ill-treatment in captivity including, "prolonged beatings...electric shock, [and being] suspended in contorted positions for hours." The AI report also provides detailed accounts of alleged summary killings and attacks targeting human rights workers and journalists.
A British court ruled (PDF) Oct. 30 that a former Libyan rebel commander can sue the British government for its alleged role in his detention and rendition. In 2004, Abdel Hakim Belhaj and his wife were arrested in Bangkok, Thailand, and returned to Muammar Qaddafi's Libya, where he spent years in prison. Belhaj first filed the lawsuit in 2012. Last year the British High Court threw out the claim, saying it was not a matter for the British courts and barred by the Acts of State doctrine. However, the Court of Appeal has now found that the claim is not barred because "it falls within a limitation on grounds of public policy in cases of violations of international law and fundamental human rights." The court went on to state that "[u]nless the English courts were able to exercise jurisdiction in this case, these very grave allegations would go uninvestigated and the appellants would be left without any legal recourse or remedy." Along with the British government, Belhaj is attempting to sue former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and the former head of the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), known as M16, for alleged complicity with US intelligence over his treatment.