The desert town of Kidal in northern Mali is under siege, divided into hostile camps by rival Tuareg factions—the pro-government Platform coalition, led by the GATIA militia, and the separatist Coordination of Azawad Movements (CMA). Jihadist insurgents meanwhile harass the UN peacekeeping force MINUSMA in sporadic attacks from the desert. (Reuters, Oct. 17) Now there are signs that the jihadists are again trying to draw the separatist Tuarges into an alliance. On Oct. 9, renegade North African al-Qaeda leader Mokhtar Belmokhtar issued an online statement eulogizing Sheikh ag-Aoussa, a CMA leader who was killed in an explosion in Kidal the day before. Ag Aoussa's car blew up as he was leaving a meeting at the town's MINUSMA compound. Authorities maintain the car hit a land mine, but CMA followers charge that Ag Aoussa was assassinated. (LWJ, Oct. 14)
A federal appeals court on Oct. 20 upheld (PDF) a conspiracy conviction of the former personal assistant to Osama bin Laden. The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that a military tribunal had jurisdiction to convict Ali Hamza Ahmad Suliman al-Bahlul. Bahlul was tried and convicted by a military commission created after September 11, 2001. A three-judge panel had thrown out the conspiracy conviction last year, and the Obama administration requested that the full appeals court reconsider the case. The issue in the case was whether the constitution grants Congress the ability to determine that conspiracy to commit war crimes is an offense triable by military commissions even though conspiracy crimes are not recognized as international war crimes. The majority determined that foreign nations could not have "a de facto veto power" over Congress' determination of which war crimes may be considered by a military tribunal:
The US is building a military air base in Niger that will be capable of deploying drones to police the greater Sahara and Sahel regions. The US already has a presence in the capital Niamey, where it shares an airbase with with French troops from the anti-Islamist Operation Barkhane. The new facility, in the central city of Agadez, will give Washington greater ability to use drones against Islamist extremists in neighboring Libya, Mali and Nigeria. A Pentagon representative confirmed the US has agreed to pay for a new runway and "associated pavements, facilities and infrastructure," estimating the cost at $50 million. But The Intercept, which broke the story, said it is projected to cost twice that. The news site reports that it has obtained files indicating the project is considered "the most important US military construction effort in Africa," and will be completed in 2017. (BBC News, Sept. 29)
Ahmad Rahami, the suspect in last week's bombings in New York and New Jersey, was charged (PDF) in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York Sept. 20. The charges include: Use of Weapons of Mass Destruction, Bombing a Place of Public Use, Destruction of Property by Means of Fire or Explosive, and Use of a Destructive Device During and in Furtherance of a Crime of Violence. Rahami is also facing similar charges (PDF) in the US District Court for the District of New Jersey. The Sept. 17 bombings injured 29 in New York; no one was injured in the New Jersey attack. Rahami was arrested two days later after sustaining injuries during a shootout with police in in Linden, NJ. The suspect also faces charges of attempted murder of a law enforcement officer stemming from the shootout.
This is about as sick as it gets. US air-strikes in Syria's Deir al-Zour governorate, aimed at ISIS positions, accidentally wiped out 62 Assad regime troops. The White House immediately issued a statement expressing "regret" for the "unintentional loss of life." Prompted by Russia, the UN Security Council has called an emergency meeting to discuss the incident. A US official even said "condolence payments" would be offered to the families of the slain troops. (BBC News, The Guardian, CNN's Barbara Starr via Twitter, Sept. 17)
It requires a really special kind of cynicism to pull this one off—the kind born of complete impunity, when the world gives you a blank check to carry out any kind of atrocity. Saudi fighter jets on Aug. 21 carried out air-strikes on a peaceful rally in Yemen's capital Sanaa that had been called to protest Saudi air-strikes. Most recent accounts put the death toll at three, but it seems very likely to rise. The protesters were mostly armed, and began firing on the warplanes with their AK-47s after the air-strikes, in a useless act of defiance. The rally was called after Doctors Without Borders (MSF) withdrew its staff from six Yemen hospitals in response to a Saudi sir-strike on a hospital that left 19 people dead in the northern province of Hajja. It was the fourth health facility supported by MSF to be hit by Saudi-led coalition air-strikes over the course of the war, now in its 17th month. The US continues to have military advisors directly supporting the Saudis' air war in Yemen. This week, their number was cut from about 45 to five, although US officials said this was not due to concern over civilian casualties. (Nine News, Australia, Aug. 21; BBC News, Aug. 20; NYT, Aug. 18)
Just after announcing an investigation into air-strikes that apparently claimed scores of civilian casualties at the north Syrian town of Manbij, the US military last week said that more civilians may have been killed in another strike around the same town. Reports indicate up to 70 may have been killed in the new strike. (The Guardian, July 28; ABC, July 27) But at least when the US does this kind of thing, it makes headlines. The ongoing aerial terror of the Assad regime and its Russian accomplices is exacting a similar toll on a near-daily basis—to comparative media silence. The latest entry in their atrocious campaign of bombing hospitals was registered just two days after the new US strike on Manbij. A maternity hospital in rural Idlib governorate was hit in what Amnesty International called "part of a despicable pattern of unlawful attacks deliberately targeting medical facilities." (AI, July 29) But of course there was no talk of an investigation from either Damascus or Moscow—and you had to turn to Amnesty for the details. There was little coverage from the mainstream media, and for the so-called "alternative" media in the West—not a peep.
Armed groups in Aleppo, Idlib and surrounding areas in Syria's north have carried out a "chilling wave" of abductions, torture and summary killings, Amnesty International charges in a new briefing. The briefing, "Torture was my punishment," charges that some of the named rebel groups are believed to have the support of governments such as Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the US "despite evidence that they are committing violations of international humanitarian law (the laws of war)." Groups including Nusra Front, al-Shamia Front and Ahrar al-Sham have established their own shari'a "justice systems" in areas they control, with their own "unofficial" prosecution offices, police forces and detention centers, imposing punishments amounting to torture for perceived infractions. (AI, July 5)