North Africa Theater
Egyptian warplanes on May 26 carried out air-strikes on what President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi called six "terrorist training camps" in Libya after a new massacre of Coptic Christians earlier in the day. The latest of a series of bloody attacks on Copts in Egypt came as Christians were headed to the Saint Samuel Monastery, near the city of Minya, some 220 kilometers south of Cairo. Masked gunmen cut off the bus in three pick-up trucks, and opened fire before fleeing the scene. At least 28 people were killed, many of them children. The retaliatory air-strikes apparently struck locations of the Mujahedeen Shura Council in Libya's eastern city of Derna. (Al Arabiya, BBC News, France24, Egyptian Streets, Al Jazeera)
Possibly as many as 130 soldiers of the Libyan National Army, loyal to the eastern commander Khalifa Haftar, are reported to have been summarily executed after a mixed force loyal to the Tripoli-based "official" Government of National Accord took the Brak al-Shatti airbase in the country's south May 18. The attacking troops were members of the Third Force militia from Misrata the Benghazi Defense Brigades. The mayor of Brak al-Shatti reported that most of the defenders were killed with a shot to the head, but five beheaded. "They killed everyone at the base: soldiers, cooks, cleaners," said one LNA source.
Thousands of Tunisians on May 13 protested a bill that would grant amnesty to officials facing charges of corruption committed under the previous regime. Under the amnesty bill officials who had money seized from them following the overthrow of president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali would be pardoned and have their funds returned. Proponents of the bill say it would help reconcile political divisions in the country but it has been met with massive public disapproval.
The leaders of the two major factions in Libya's civil war—Fayez al-Sarraj, head of the Tripoli-based "official" government, and the eastern warlord Khalifa Haftar—reportedly agreed to hold new elections after meeting in the UAE last week. The elections, aimed at finally unifying the country, are said to be tentatively scheduled for March 2018. (MediaLine, May 4) An "accord committee" of the new Constitution Drafting Assembly has meanwhile been holding meetings at locales around the country to discuss a draft for the country's long-awaited charter. But the draft, drawn up under the supervision of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), has been meeting with harsh criticism. (Libya Observer, April 22)
A new Qaeda-affiliated faction, the Jama'at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (Group for Support of Islam and Muslims, JNIM), is said to be behind a string of recent deadly attacks in Mali's conflcited desert north. The group claimed responsibility for a May 7 suicide assault on a military base at Almoustarat, outside the northern city of Gao, that left seven Malian soliders dead. The jihadists breached the base perimeter, and were able to capture at least three vehicles and large amounts of weapons before French troops arrived. JNIM also claimed a May 3 raid on a camp of the MINUSMA peacekeeping force outside Timbuktu that killed a Liberian solider. Under the nominal command of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), JNIM is apparently attemtping to reunite the fragmented jihadist insurgency in northern Mali. It has apparently absorbed the Murabitoun group, until now the most active jihadist faction in Mali. (Journal du Mali, May 9; Long War Journal, May 8; UN News Centre, May 4)
The International Organization for Migration reports that its staff have documented shocking conditions on North African migrant routes—including what they describe as "slave markets" faced by hundreds of young African men bound for Libya. Staff with the IOM's office in Niger, reported on the rescue of a Senegalese migrant (referred to as "SC" to protect his identity), who was returning to his home after being held captive for months. According to SC's testimony, while trying to travel north through the Sahara, he arrived in Agadez, Niger, where he paid a trafficker 200,000 CFA (about $320) to arrange trasnport north to Libya. But when the pick-up truck reached Sabha in southwestern Libya, the driver insisted that he hadn't been paid by the trafficker, and brought the migrants to an area where SC witnessed a slave market taking place. "Sub-Saharan migrants were being sold and bought by Libyans, with the support of Ghanaians and Nigerians who work for them," IOM staff reported.
A Tunisian court sentenced British DJ Dax J to a year in prison on April 6 for "public indecency" and "offending public morality" after the artist played a remix of the Muslim call to prayer in a nightclub. The nightclub was subsequently shut down and charges were filed against the club's owner and the organizer of the event where Dax J was playing. These charges were subsequently dropped, but the prosecution appealed the dropped charges claiming the owner and organizer still maintain liability. Tunisia's religious affairs ministry commented on the charges and conviction saying: "Mocking the opinions and religious principles of Tunisians is absolutely unacceptable."
The US military will keep an unspecified number of ground troops in Libya to help local forces further degrade the ISIS faction there, and also seeks greater scope to target insurgents in Somalia, Africa Command chief Gen. Thomas Waldhauser told reporters at the Pentagon March 24. "We're going to maintain a force that has the ability to develop intelligence, work with various groups as required, or be able to assist if required...to take out ISIS targets," said Gen. Waldhauser, boasting that the ISIS presence in coastal Libya has fallen below 200 from an estimated 5,000 only a year ago. In Somalia, where al-Qaeda affiliate Shabaab remains a threat, Waldhauser hopes the Trump White House will loosen rules of engagement established by the Obama administration to avoid "collateral damage." "I think the combatant commanders, myself included, are more than capable of making judgments and determinations on some of these targets," he said. (Military Times, March 24)