Madagascar: new terror war front?

Receiving virtually no international coverage, this past weekend saw an outburst of ethnic violence in Madagascar, with homes and shops of the Indo-Pakistani immigrant community looted in the southwest coastal town of Toliara. A serious escalation is reported April 30 in the Madagascar Tribune—a grisly killing and ritual desecration at a mosque in Ankatso, near the capital Antananarivo. The body of the 20-year-old student was found in the mosque on the morning of April 29, the day after the Toliara violence. His blood had apprently been intentionally spilled around the mosque’s interior, and the Koran was torn. The Tribune writes that following this development, and the slaying of a brother-in-law of Osama bin Laden in Madagascar earlier this year, the island nation “risks being placed on the black-list of Muslim extremists.”

The bin Laden brother-in-law, Jamal Khalifa, who was wanted in the Philippines for alleged financing of the Abu Sayyaf militant group, was killed in a night attack at his house in a Madagascar village (identified by the Tribune as Sakarahaand). Up to 30 armed men broke into the house while Khalifa was sleeping, according to his brother Malek Khalifa, reached by phone in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia. Malek said his brother’s computer and other belongings were all taken in the attack. He said Jamal was in Madagascar on business, and his wife and family were in Saudi Arabia. He was quoted by Al-Arabiya satellite TV as saying that Jamal mined and traded precious stones in Madagascar.

Jamal Khalifa denied that he was involved in militant activities—most recently in a letter he had published in the Philippine newspaper Daily Inquirer days before his death, stating: “I have never given any money to any person or group, and certainly not to the Abu Sayyaf.” The letter said he had written to Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in July 2001 offering to help government investigators. He said he had a “disagreement” with bin Laden and left Afghanistan in 1986, “and we have been apart from each other since then.”

The US named Jamal as an “unindicted co-conspirator” in the 1993 World Trade Center attack in New York, and arrested him the following year on a visa violation in San Francisco. He was deported without standing trial. (AP, Jan. 31)

See our last posts on Madagascar, the Philippines, al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden.