The military commander of Libya's unrecognized eastern government, Khalifa Haftar, has threatened to bombard any warships sailing into the country's national waters—an explicit challenge to Italy, which is dispatching vessels to the Libyan coast as part of its effort to intercept migrants seeking to cross the Mediterranean from North Africa. "The General Commander of Armed Force Marshal Khalifa Haftar instructs chiefs of staff of air and navy forces to intercept any foreign vessels in the Libyan waters except the commercial ones," read a statement from the media office of Haftar's Operation Dignity forces. The statement took aim at the recognized government in Tripoli, which it accused of entering into agreements with foreign powers that "violate the sovereignty of Libya under the pretext of fighting illegal immigration." (Al Jazeera, Aug. 3; Libya Observer, Aug. 2)
Javier Duarte, the fugitive ex-governor of Mexico's Veracruz state, was detained in Guatemala on April 15 in a joint operation by Interpol and Guatemalan police. He's now awaiting extradition back to Mexico, where he is wanted on charges of money laundering and protecting organized crime. Duarte was governor of Veracruz from 2010 until he stepped down last October, shortly before the end of his term. He was doing so in order to face the allegations against him—but then he disappeared and went on the lam.
The latest in an ongoing wave of unclaimed air-strikes in Libya on Feb. 9 hit al-Jufra air base in the interior of the country, which is in the hands of local militia forces. Two were reported killed and several injured, as well as extensive damage to the base. The targeted militias were identified as the Tagrift Brigade and the Saraya Defend Benghazi group. These militias have been targeted before by Gen. Khalifa Haftar, military chief of Libya's unrecognized eastern-based government. (Anadolu Agency, Libya Observer, Feb. 9)
US B-2 Stealth bombers and drones carried out a raid against presumed ISIS camps in the Libyan desert Jan. 19, in what will likely be the final air-strikes ordered by President Obama. The operation targeted two camps located just over 40 kilometers southwest of Sirte, the coastal city recently liberated from ISIS by an alliance of local militias. The strikes, which left scores dead, were reportedly ordered several days ago on the basis of information gathered from the air and on the ground. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said militants at the camps "were actively planning operations against our allies in Europe." (Al Jazeera, NPR, ANSA)
With two months still to go, deaths of refugees and migrants crossing the Mediterranean so far this year have hit a record high, according to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). Expressing alarm at the situation, UNHCR reported that 3,740 lives had been lost so far in 2016, just short of the 3,771 reported for the whole of 2015. "This is the worst we have ever seen," UNHCR spokesperson William Spindler told a press briefing in Geneva. "From one death for every 269 arrivals last year, in 2016 the likelihood of dying has spiralled to one in 88." Spindler said the high loss of life takes place despite a large overall fall this year in the number of people seeking to cross the Mediterranean to Europe. Last year at least 1,015,078 people made the crossing. This year so far, crossings stand at 327,800.
The White House said July 1 that between 64 and 116 civilians have been killed by drone and other US strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and Libya since Barack Obama took office in 2009. But this first public assessment by the administration put the civilian death toll significantly lower than estimates by various human rights groups, which range as high as 1,000 killed. Obama also signed an executive order outlining US policies to limit civilian casualties, and ostensibly making protection of civilians a central element in US military operations planning. The order requires an annual release of casualty estimates, and says the government should include "credible reporting" by non-government groups when it reviews strikes to determine if civilians were killed.
Amnesty International is demanding the international community take action to address "horrifying" abuses of refugees and migrants in Libya. The June 30 statement warns that EU cooperation on immigration with the UN-recognized Government of National Accord (actually one of three rival governments in Libya) should not go ahead until guarantees for human rights are provided. Testimony gathered from some 90 migrants and refugees who made it to the safety of three camps in the Sicily and Puglia regions of Italy describes how Black Africans are imprisoned and exploited until they could earn their payment to traffickers or have more money sent by relatives back home. "From being abducted, incarcerated underground for months and sexually abused by members of armed groups, to being beaten, exploited or shot at by people smugglers, traffickers or criminal gangs—refugees and migrants have described in harrowing detail the horrors they were forced to endure in Libya," said Magdalena Mughrabi, Amnesty's interim deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa.
Former US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operative Sabrina de Sousa will be extradited to Italy to serve a four-year prison sentence following a ruling by Portugal's Constitutional Court on June 8. De Sousa filed an appeal in April, a last attempt to prevent her extradition to Italy to serve a sentence for her involvement in a US extraordinary renditions program. De Sousa was arrested at a Portuguese airport after she had been convicted in absentia by an Italian court for her part in the 2003 kidnapping and "rendition" of Egyptian terror suspect Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr (AKA Abu Omar). The Portugal Supreme Court rejected her appeal of an extradition order, leaving de Sousa no choice but to argue that her extradition order is unconstitutional. De Sousa was one of 26 Americans convicted in the kidnapping.