French army kills Mali jihadist linked to journalist murders

People pose on June 8 in Paris, during a gathering for French journalist Olivier Dubois, kidnapped in Northern Mali in April by a jihadist group with links to Al-Qaeda. (AFP)
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Updated 11 June 2021

French army kills Mali jihadist linked to journalist murders

  • French forces in the Sahel region killed "four terrorists" during an operation in northern Mali on June 5
  • Bayes Ag Bakabo was in Aguelhok village and preparing an attack against UN peacekeeping forces when he was killed

PARIS: French soldiers have killed a Malian jihadist suspected of being responsible for the kidnapping and deaths of two French journalists in 2013, Defense Minister Florence Parly said Friday.
Parly said French forces in the Sahel region killed “four terrorists” during an operation in northern Mali on June 5, including Bayes Ag Bakabo, the prime suspect in the deaths of RFI radio reporters Ghislaine Dupont and Claude Verlon.
“His neutralization means the end of a long wait,” Parly said, adding that Bakabo was in the village of Aguelhok and was preparing an attack against UN peacekeeping forces when he was killed.
Dupont and Verlon, both in their 50s and veteran journalists for RFI, were seized in the flashpoint northern Malian town of Kidal in November 2013 after interviewing a separatist Tuareg leader.
Their bullet-riddled bodies were found few hours later, with the Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) group later claiming the killings as revenge for France’s decision to intervene against jihadist groups in the country earlier that year.
A French investigation into the murders concluded that Bakabo, also a known drug trafficker, drove the pick-up truck used to kidnap the two journalists.
Parly expressed her “thoughts for the family and loved ones of Ghislaine Dupont and Claude Verlon.”
The exact circumstances of their deaths have never been revealed, and relatives charge that military secrecy has hampered efforts toward that end.
In November, Agnes Callamard, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, noted that “the alleged perpetrators have been named but are yet to be arrested and prosecuted.”
Callamard pressed the governments of France and Mali “to advance the investigation without further delay so that justice may be served.”
On Friday, Parly said the operation “illustrates one of the main priorities of France in the Sahel region: taking down the main heads of terrorist groups that are causing havoc in the region.”
The news of Bakabo’s death emerged just a day after French President Emmanuel Macron announced a drawdown of French troops in the Sahel region, who number 5,100 in bases across the arid and volatile region on the southern fringe of the Sahara desert.
Macron did not give figures for the drawdown, but he made clear he wanted future French involvement to be limited to counter-terror operations and be part of a multi-nation European force.
“The objective stays the same: France remains committed to the fight against international terrorism, besides Sahelian countries and for the security of Europe and French people,” Parly said.
The Sahel is seen by many Western politicians and experts as a major global security risk because of the growing strength of jihadist groups there, as well as its role as a crossroads for arms and people-smuggling.
Journalists covering the insurgency in the Sahel often find themselves targeted by armed groups, either because of their reporting or for their ransom value.
French reporter Olivier Dubois, 46, disappeared in April and is believed to be in the hands of the Group to Support Islam and Muslims (GSIM), the biggest jihadist alliance in the Sahel.
The 46-year-old freelancer was in the northern Malian town of Gao, where he had traveled to interview a Qaeda-linked jihadist commander.
Last year, French soldiers serving in the Barkhane force killed the head of AQIM, Abdelmalek Droukdel, in a major breakthrough, while regular air strikes target other senior commanders.
Another senior AQIM figure linked to the murder of the RFI journalists, Amada Ag Hama, was killed in a raid in northern Mali in May 2015.


Afghanistan could become failed state: UK’s top soldier

Updated 04 August 2021

Afghanistan could become failed state: UK’s top soldier

  • Gen. Nick Carter: Govt forces need to secure military stalemate with Taliban so as to enable talks
  • There is a ‘real risk’ that the West is ‘giving far too much legitimacy to the Taliban’

LONDON: Afghanistan risks becoming a failed state unless government forces can prevent the Taliban’s advance, Britain’s most senior soldier warned on Wednesday.

Gen. Nick Carter, the chief of defense staff, said Afghan forces have to secure a military stalemate in order to start talks between the government and the Taliban. 

He also warned the international community against giving credence to the Taliban and its leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, saying there is a risk of giving the group “legitimacy” that it does not deserve.

Carter said the country becoming a failed state “is one of the scenarios that could occur, but we have to get behind the current Afghan government and support them in what they’re trying to do.

“And if they can achieve a military stalemate, then there will have to be a political compromise. Even the Taliban at the level of Baradar recognize that they can’t … conquer Afghanistan.

“There has to be a conversation. And the important thing is to achieve the military stalemate that can then bring on that conversation.”

Carter told the BBC that there is a “real risk” that the West is “giving far too much legitimacy to the Taliban movement.”

He added: “There’s a huge disparity between what Mullah Baradar is saying publicly and … what’s actually happening on the ground. 

“And the international community has got to do much more about calling out the way that the people on the ground are trashing government buildings, they’re threatening the population, there are reports of people being forced into marriages.”

Carter said he has seen “grisly videos of war crimes,” and the international community “mustn’t let them get away with this — we’ve got to call them out.”

His comments come as Tobias Ellwood, a Conservative MP and chair of the House of Commons Defence Select Committee, called for the West to “rethink its strategy.”

Ellwood, himself a former British Army officer, tweeted on Wednesday that there is “still time to prevent civil war” by sending “a 5,000-strong coalition force — enough to give legitimacy to the Afghan government & support to Afghan forces to contain and deter the Taliban.” He added: “Otherwise we face a failed state.”


WHO calls for moratorium on Covid vaccine booster shots

Updated 04 August 2021

WHO calls for moratorium on Covid vaccine booster shots

  • WHO chief called on countries and companies controlling the supply of doses to change gear and ensure more vaccines to less wealthy states.
  • More than 4.25 billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines have now been administered globally

GENEVA: The WHO on Wednesday called for a moratorium on Covid-19 vaccine booster shots until at least the end of September to address the drastic inequity in dose distribution between rich and poor nations.
World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called on the countries and companies controlling the supply of doses to change gear and ensure more vaccines to less wealthy states.
“I understand the concern of all governments to protect their people from the Delta variant. But we cannot accept countries that have already used most of the global supply of vaccines using even more of it, while the world’s most vulnerable people remain unprotected,” Tedros told a press conference.
“We need an urgent reversal, from the majority of vaccines going to high-income countries, to the majority going to low-income countries.”
More than 4.25 billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines have now been administered globally, according to an AFP count.
In countries categorized as high income by the World Bank, 101 doses per 100 people have been injected — with the 100 doses mark having been surpassed this week.
That figure drops to 1.7 doses per 100 people in the 29 lowest-income countries.
“Accordingly, WHO is calling for a moratorium on boosters until at least the end of September, to enable at least 10 percent of the population of every country to be vaccinated,” said Tedros.
“To make that happen, we need everyone’s cooperation, especially the handful of countries and companies that control the global supply of vaccines.”
Tedros said the G20 group of nations had a vital leadership role to play because those countries are the biggest producers, consumers and donors of Covid-19 jabs.
“It’s no understatement to say that the course of the Covid-19 pandemic depends on the leadership of the G20,” he said.


Germany detains man for grenade attack on civilians in Syria

Updated 04 August 2021

Germany detains man for grenade attack on civilians in Syria

  • At least seven people were killed in the attack and three were injured

BERLIN: German police have detained a Syrian man accused of war crimes for firing a rocket-propelled grenade into a group of civilians in Damascus in 2014, officials said Wednesday.

The suspect, identified only as Mouafak Al D. in line with German privacy laws, was detained in Berlin on Wednesday.

German federal prosecutors said he is suspected of firing an RPG at a group of people lining up for food aid in the Yarmouk district of Damascus, home to a large population of Palestinian refugees.

At least seven people were killed in the attack and three were injured, including a 6-year-old child.

The suspect is alleged to have been a member of the Free Palestine Movement, and previously of the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Palestine General Command. Between July 2013 and April 2015 the groups exerted control of the Yarmouk refugee camp on behalf of the Syrian government.

Prosecutors said that in addition to war crimes, the suspect faces being charged with seven counts of murder and three counts of serious bodily harm.

A federal judge is expected to determine Wednesday whether the man shall remain under arrest for the duration of the pre-trial investigation.


Taliban claim Kabul attack targeting defence minister: insurgent spokesman

Updated 04 August 2021

Taliban claim Kabul attack targeting defence minister: insurgent spokesman

KABUL: Taliban claim Kabul attack targeting defence minister: insurgent spokesman


Dubai airport expects passenger surge as UAE eases travel curbs

Updated 04 August 2021

Dubai airport expects passenger surge as UAE eases travel curbs

  • UAE has lifted a ban on transit flights from India, Pakistan, other countries from August 5
  • Dubai International Airport is targeting 8 percent growth in passenger traffic this year to 28 million

DUBAI: Dubai’s state airport operator expects a “surge” in passenger traffic over the coming weeks and months, its chief executive said on Wednesday, after the United Arab Emirates announced an easing of travel restrictions from African and Asian countries.
The Gulf state, a major international travel hub, on Tuesday said it would scrap on Aug. 5 a transit flight ban which Emirates airline later said applied to passengers traveling from 12 countries, including major market India.
The UAE will also lift this week an entry ban on those who had visited India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Nigeria or Uganda over the past 14 days for those with valid residencies and who are certified by Emirati authorities as fully vaccinated.
Dubai Airports Chief Executive Paul Griffiths said Dubai International was “ready to accommodate the anticipated surge in the coming weeks and months” once restrictions ease.
The Indian subcontinent is traditionally the largest source market for Dubai International, which is one of the world’s busiest airports and the hub for state airline Emirates.
Griffiths said the easing of entry restrictions on inbound travelers from South Asia as well as Nigeria and Uganda would allow for thousands of UAE residents to return.
“It’s a great development from both a social and economic standpoint,” he said.
Those traveling to the UAE or transiting through its airports need to meet various conditions including presenting a negative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) coronavirus test prior to departure.
Dubai International Airport is targeting 8 percent growth in passenger traffic this year to 28 million. It handled 86.4 million in 2019, the year before the pandemic struck.