Libya's weak UN-backed government is bracing for an offensive on Tripoli by the country's strong eastern warlord Khalifa Haftar, generally referred to as a "renegade general." Haftar ordered his "Libyan National Army" forces amassed on the outskirts to advance on Tripoli and "conquer" it whether by peaceful means or force. Militias loyal to the "official" government are scrambling to erect defenses. (Libyan Express, Al Jazeera) Tellingly, the newly-formed Western Region coalition of anti-Hafter forces are calling their operation to defend the capital "Wadi [Ouadi] Doum 2." This is a reference to an airstrip built by Qaddafi in northern Chad to support local rebels, where Hafter was defeated and captured by Chadian government forces in 1987, in an operation backed by French support. (Libya Herald) Today, the tables have turned, and both France and Hafter oppose the rebels fighting the current Chadian government. Several hundred fighters from Chad's rebel Union of Forces for Democracy and Development (UFDD) were expelled from southern Libya by Hafter's LNA last month, and reportedly surrendered to the French-backed Chadian military. (Defense Post)
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) announced the complete "territorial defeat" of the Islamic State (ISIS) on March 23. The SDF "declare total elimination of so-called caliphate and 100% territorial defeat of ISIS," Mustafa Bali, head of the force's press office, announced on Twitter. "On this unique day, we commemorate thousands of martyrs whose efforts made the victory possible," Bali added. Some 11,000 fighters of the SDF, a Kurdish-led umbrella force of Kurds, Arabs, and Christians of northern Syria, died in the war against ISIS. In Iraq, more than 1,800 Peshmerga were killed battling the group. The Iraqi army has not released their official figures casualties, but it is believed to be in the thousands.
The mass shootings at two mosques in Christchurch have left at least 49 dead and some 20 wounded, many gravely, including children. The attacks took place when the mosques were packed for Friday prayers, and many of the dead were immigrants from Indonesia, Malaysia and the Arab world. An Australian-born man named Brenton Tarrant has been arrested as the gunman, and three suspected accomplices also detained. Marking a new extreme in depravity, the gunman live-streamed the massacre on Facebook as he carried it out, with a camera mounted on his head. The video has been removed from the web. Alas, so has his lengthy manifesto, in which he laid out his motivations for the attack. (Ma'an; BellingCat)
Even amid growing media portrayals that Bashar Assad has won the war in Syria, the first real hope has emerged that the dictator will face war crimes charges before the International Criminal Court. A group of Syrian refugees who fled to Jordan after surviving torture and massacres this week submitted dossiers of evidence to the ICC in an attempt to prosecute Assad. Although Syria is not a signatory to the Rome Statute, which establishes the court's jurisdiction, lawyers in London are citing recent precedent set by the ICC in extending jurisdiction for the crime of forcible population transfers across international borders. London barrister Rodney Dixon of Temple Garden Chambers, representing the group of 28 refugees, said: "The ICC exists precisely to bring justice to the victims of these most brutal international crimes... There is a jurisdictional gateway that has opened up finally for the ICC prosecutor to investigate the perpetrators who are most responsible." In his letter to chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, Dixon notes last year's ICC ruling on Rohingya refugees, allowing an investigation of non-signatory Burma to proceed. (The Guardian, BBC News)
Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán, infamous kingpin of Mexico's Sinaloa Cartel, was unanimously found guilty on all 10 counts against him by a federal jury in Brooklyn, New York, on Feb. 12. He was convicted of overseeing an international criminal conspiracy to import tons of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and marijuana into the United States over a 20-year period, and laundering the billions of dollars in proceeds.
Venezuelan army troops reportedly opened fire on indigenous protesters who were blocking a road near the Brazilian border Feb. 23, leaving several dead. Opposition lawmaker Américo de Grazia, from the southern state of Bolívar, announced on his Twitter feed that morning that soliders opened fire as protesters, including many from the local Pemón indigenous group, contended with troops attempting to bar the passage of trucks filled with aid coming in from Brazilian territory. The first victim was said to be a Pemón woman who was on the scene as a food vendor. A second Pemón was slain shortly later, and another 14 wounded, de Grazia said. He added that several troops, including the commander on the scene, were subsequently taken captive by Pemón warriors and are being held at the nearby indigenous community of Kumarakapay. De Grazia tweeted later in the day that the 14 Pemón who had been taken to a nearby hospital after being shot also succumbed to their wounds.
Two months into his term, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador declared an end to his country's "war on drugs," announcing that the army would no longer prioritize capturing cartel bosses. The new populist president made his declaration Jan. 30, at the end of his second month in office. He told gathered reporters at a press conference that the "guerra contra el narcotráfico," launched in 2006 by then-president Felipe Calderón, has come to and end. "Officially now, there is no war; we are going to prusue peace," he said.
The current revelations of Trump administration efforts to transfer sensitive nuclear material to Saudi Arabia bring into focus the grim implications of the pull-out from the Iran nuclear deal. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif takes the opportunity to tweet about "US hypocrisy," while the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, an Israeli security think-tank, gleefully quotes a recent comment by Ahmad Khatami, a senior member of Iran's Assembly of Experts, that Tehran possess the "formula" to build a nuclear bomb, although he added that there "no intention of using a weapon of mass destruction." (Emphasis ours) The outrage was revealed when the House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Reform issued a report yesterday, after receiving whistleblower complaints of "efforts inside the White House to rush the transfer of highly sensitive US nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia in potential violation of the Atomic Energy Act (AEA) and without review by Congress as required by law—efforts that may be ongoing to this day." The report reveals the key figure pushing for the transfers as Trump's hard-right ex-National Security Advisor Mike Flynn, who now awaits sentencing on charges of lying to the FBI.