Pro-Turkiye Syria mercenaries head to Niger to earn cash

1 / 2
Abed, a 30-year-old pro-Turkish Syrian fighter using a pseudonym who has been displaced with his family for more than a decade, sits with an assault rifle near his children inside their family's shelter at a camp for people displaced by conflict in Syria's northern Aleppo province on April 26, 2024. (AFP)
2 / 2
Ahmed, a 30-year-old pro-Turkish Syrian fighter using a pseudonym, sits with his son in a field at a location in Syria's northern Aleppo province on April 26, 2024. (AFP)
Short Url
Updated 16 May 2024
Follow

Pro-Turkiye Syria mercenaries head to Niger to earn cash

  • At least 1,000 fighters have been sent to Niger in recent months “to protect Turkish projects and interests,” says Syrian war monitor SOHR
  • Niger borders oil-rich Libya, and in 2020, Washington accused Turkiye-linked SADAT of sending Syrian fighters to Libya

BEIRUT: Like hundreds of other pro-Turkish fighters, Omar left northern Syria for mineral-rich Niger last year, joining Syrian mercenaries sent to the West African nation by a private Turkish military company.

“The main reason I left is because life is hard in Syria,” fighter Omar, 24, told AFP on message app WhatsApp from Niger.
In northern Syria “there are no job opportunities besides joining an armed faction and earning no more than 1,500 Turkish lira ($46) a month,” Omar said, requesting like others AFP interviewed to be identified by a pseudonym for security reasons.
Analysts say Ankara has strong ties with the new military regime in Niamey, in power since a July 2023 coup.
And in recent months, at least 1,000 fighters have been sent to Niger “to protect Turkish projects and interests,” said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor.
For the past decade, Turkiye has been increasing its footprint in Niger, mostly through “humanitarian aid, development and commerce,” said Gabriella Korling, a researcher focusing on the Sahel at the Swedish Defense Research Agency.
“The defense component of the relation between Niger and Turkiye has become more important over time with the signing of a military cooperation agreement in 2020 and the sale of armed drones,” Korling said.
Niamey often refers to Turkiye, Russia and China as “partners that are respectful of Niger’s sovereignty,” she added.
Omar, who supports his mother and three siblings, said since leaving his home in August he receives a “very good” monthly salary of $1,500 for his work in the West African nation.
He hopes his earnings will help him start a small business and quit the battlefield, after years working as a fighter for a pro-Ankara faction.
Tens of thousands of young men have joined the ranks of jihadist factions and others loyal to Ankara in Syria’s north and northwest, where four million people, half of them displaced, live in desperate conditions.

Omar said he was among a first batch of more than 200 fighters who left Syria’s Turkish-controlled north in August for Niger.
He is now readying to return home after his six-month contract, renewed once, ended.
He and two other pro-Ankara Syrian fighters who spoke to AFP in recent weeks said they had enlisted for work in Niger with the Sultan Murad faction, one of Turkiye’s most loyal proxies in northern Syria.
They said they had signed six-month contracts at the faction’s headquarters with private firm SADAT International Defense Consultancy.
“SADAT officers came into the room and we signed the contract with them,” said fighter Ahmed.
“They handle everything,” from travel to accommodation, added the 30-year-old, who was readying to travel from northern Syria to Niger.
The company is widely seen as Ankara’s secret weapon in wars across North Africa and the Middle East, although its chief denied the allegation in a 2021 interview with AFP.
Niger borders oil-rich Libya, and in 2020, Washington accused SADAT of sending Syrian fighters to Libya.
Turkiye has sent thousands of Syrian fighters to Libya to buttress the Tripoli government, which it backs against rival Russian-backed authorities in the east according to the Observatory and the Syria Justice and Accountability Center.
The Center said SADAT was “responsible for the international air transport of mercenaries once they crossed into Turkish territory” to go to Libya and Nagorno-Karabakh.
Turkiye has also sent Syrian fighters to bolster Azerbaijan in its conflict with Armenia in Nagorno-Karabakh, but its efforts to send mercenaries to Niger have been shrouded in secrecy.
Turkiye’s defense ministry told AFP: “All these allegations are false and have no truth.”
Omar said his journey took him to Gaziantep in Turkiye, then to Istanbul, where he boarded a military plane to Burkina Faso before being driven under escort to camps in neighboring Niger.
After two weeks of military training, he was tasked with guarding a site near a mine, whose name he said he didn’t know.
He said he and other Syrians worked alongside Nigeriens in military fatigues, but was unable to say if they were soldiers.
“They divided us into several groups of guards and fighters,” he said.
Another group “was sent to fight Boko Haram (jihadists) and another was sent to Lome” in neighboring Togo, he said, without providing details about their mission.
His family collects his monthly salary, minus a $350 fee for his faction.


Ahmed, who has been a fighter for 10 years, said he had been told his mission would consist of “protecting military positions” after undergoing training.
He said “there could be battles” at some point, but did not know who he would be fighting.
The father of three said he spent six months in Libya in 2020 earning more than $2,000 a month.
In July 2023, the army seized power in Niger, ending security and defense agreements with Western countries including France, which has withdrawn forces who were fighting jihadists.
“The coup in 2023 did not disrupt diplomatic relations between Turkiye and Niger,” researcher Korling added, pointing to the appointment of the first Turkish defense attache to Niger earlier this year.
Last year, Turkish state television opened a French-language channel covering Africa, and Ankara operates daily flights to Niamey.
“Turkiye, given its religious proximity and lack of political and historical baggage, is looked upon quite favorably in Niger especially in comparison to” Western countries, said Korling.


Rami Abdel Rahman, who heads the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said Turkiye was “exploiting” impoverished men in areas under its control “to recruit them as mercenaries in military operations” serving Ankara’s foreign interests.
The war monitor and other human rights groups said promises of lucrative payments to mercenaries sent abroad are not always kept.
Mohammad Al-Abdallah of the Syria Justice and Accountability Center said his organization had for example documented “false promises of granting Turkish citizenship” to those sent to Azerbaijan or Libya.
Abdul Rahman noted reports that about 50 Syrian fighters had been killed in Niger, mostly after they were attacked by jihadists, but he said his organization had only verified nine deaths, with four bodies having been repatriated.
A source within a faction whose members have been dispatched to Niger said about 50 bodies were expected to return in the coming days.
For Abed, a 30-year-old Syrian who has been displaced with his family for more than a decade, death is a risk he has decided to take.
The father of four and sole breadwinner told AFP: “I’m scared of dying... but maybe I could die here” too.
The difference, he said, is that in Syria “I would die for 1,000 Turkish liras ($30), and (in Niger) I would die for $1,500.”
str-lar/aya/lg/jkb


Merchant ship damaged by drone attack in Red Sea: UK agency

Updated 23 June 2024
Follow

Merchant ship damaged by drone attack in Red Sea: UK agency

  • Vessels in and around the Red Sea have come under repeated attack for months by Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen

DUBAI: A merchant ship was damaged by a drone attack in the Red Sea near Yemen early Sunday morning, though no injuries were reported, according to a British maritime security agency.
Vessels in and around the Red Sea have come under repeated attack for months by Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen who say they are acting in support of Palestinians during the Israel-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip.
The attack occurred about 65 nautical miles (120 kilometers) west of the Yemeni port city of Hodeidah, said the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations, which is run by the British navy.

 


“The Master of a merchant vessel reports being hit by uncrewed aerial system (UAS), resulting in damage to the vessel. All crew members are reported safe, and the vessel is proceeding to its next port of call,” said a bulletin from the agency.
“Authorities are investigating,” it added, offering no attribution for the attack.
On Saturday, the US Central Command, which has carried out retaliatory strikes against the Houthis over their attacks on shipping, said it had destroyed three nautical drones belonging to the group over the past 24 hours.
It also said the group had launched three anti-ship missiles into the Gulf of Aden, but no injuries or significant damage were reported.


Israeli strikes kill at least 42 in Gaza, enclave’s government media office says

Updated 23 June 2024
Follow

Israeli strikes kill at least 42 in Gaza, enclave’s government media office says

  • One Israeli strike on houses in Al-Shati, a historic refugee camp, killed 24 people
  • Another 18 Palestinians killed in a strike on houses in the Al-Tuffah neighborhood

CAIRO: At least 42 people were killed in Israeli attacks on districts of Gaza City in the north of the Palestinian enclave on Saturday, the director of the Hamas-run government media office said.

One Israeli strike on houses in Al-Shati, one of the Gaza Strip’s eight historic refugee camps, killed 24 people, Ismail Al-Thawabta said. Another 18 Palestinians were killed in a strike on houses in the Al-Tuffah neighborhood.

The Israeli military released a brief statement saying: “A short while ago, IDF fighter jets struck two Hamas military infrastructure sites in the area of Gaza City.”

It said more details would be released soon.

Exchanges of fire across the Lebanese border between Israel and the powerful Iran-backed militant group Hezbollah have also escalated in recent weeks, raising fears of an even wider war.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Friday that the cross-border hostilities must not turn Lebanon into “another Gaza,” warning of the risk of triggering a catastrophe “beyond imagination.”

His warning came as Israel stepped up its strikes in the Gaza Strip, where one hospital in Gaza City reported at least 30 dead on Friday.

Fighting continued Saturday morning, with witnesses reporting gunbattles between militants and Israeli forces in Gaza City.

And in the city’s Zeitun neighborhood, Israeli helicopters fired at militants, witnesses said.

The Israeli military meanwhile said troops continued to carry out operations in central Gaza “eliminating several armed terrorists and dismantling terrorist infrastructure in the area.”

“Fighter jets and additional aircraft struck numerous terror targets in the Gaza Strip, including armed terrorists, weapons storage facilities, and additional terrorist infrastructure,” it added.

In southern Gaza, the ICRC on Friday said 22 dead and 45 wounded people were taken to a Red Cross field hospital after shelling with “heavy calibre projectiles” near its Gaza office.

“Firing so dangerously close to humanitarian structures puts the lives of civilians and humanitarians at risk,” the ICRC said on X.

The health ministry in the Hamas-run territory blamed the shelling on Israel, saying there were 25 killed and 50 wounded in the southern coastal Al-Mawasi area, where thousands of displaced people have been sheltering in tents.

An Israeli military spokesman did not acknowledge any role in the incident but said it was “under review.”

In the north of the Strip, the director of Gaza City’s Al-Ahli hospital was quoted by the territory’s health ministry as reporting 30 dead in strikes.

“It has been a difficult and brutal day in Gaza City. So far, around 30 martyrs have arrived at the Al-Ahli Arab Hospital,” doctor Fadel Naeem was quoted as saying.

Civil defense agency spokesman Mahmud Basal said five municipal workers died when a garage in the city was bombed.

Lebanon-based Hamas ally Hezbollah meanwhile claimed a number of attacks on Israeli troops and positions near the border on Friday, including two using drones.

The Israeli army said it had carried out multiple retaliatory strikes on both days.

Israeli jets on Friday struck a “Hezbollah military structure in the area of Khiam, a Hezbollah military post in the area of Mais Al-Jabal, and Hezbollah terrorist infrastructure in the areas of Taybeh and Tallouseh in southern Lebanon,” the army said in a statement.

Experts are divided on the prospect of a wider war, almost nine months into Israel’s campaign to eradicate Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Amid the escalating exchanges between Israel and Hezbollah, Israel’s military said Tuesday that plans for an offensive in Lebanon had been “approved and validated.”

Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah said “no place” in Israel would “be spared our rockets” in a wider war, and also threatened nearby European Union member Cyprus.

Citing the “bellicose rhetoric” on both sides, UN chief Guterres warned Friday that the risk of all-out war was real.

“One rash move — one miscalculation — could trigger a catastrophe that goes far beyond the border, and frankly, beyond imagination,” he said.

Israel’s ally the United States has appealed for de-escalation.

The violence on the Lebanon border began after the October 7 attack on southern Israel by Hamas militants from Gaza. That attack resulted in the deaths of 1,194 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.

The militants also seized hostages, 116 of whom remain in Gaza although the army says 41 are dead.

As of Thursday, Israel’s retaliatory offensive had killed at least 37,431 people, also mostly civilians, according to Gaza’s health ministry.

Months of negotiations toward a truce and a hostage release have failed to make headway, but mediator Qatar insisted Friday it was still working to “bridge the gap” between Israel and Hamas.

The war has destroyed much of Gaza’s infrastructure and left residents short of food, fuel and other essentials.

On June 16 the army said it would implement a daily “tactical pause of military activity” in a southern Gaza corridor to facilitate aid delivery.

But on Friday Richard Peeperkorn of the World Health Organization said “we did not see an impact on the humanitarian supplies coming in.”

Hisham Salem in Jabalia camp said: “The markets... used to be full, but now there is nothing left. I go around the entire market and I can’t find a kilo of onions, and if I do... it costs 140 shekels ($37).”

Doctor Thanos Gargavanis, a WHO trauma surgeon and emergency officer, said the UN in Gaza was trying to “operate in an unworkable environment.”

According to the WHO, 17 of the 36 hospitals in Gaza are operational, but only partially.

Israel’s military on Friday identified two more soldiers killed in Gaza, bringing the death toll since ground operations began to at least 312.

The war has revived a global push for Palestinians to be given a state of their own.

Armenia on Friday declared its recognition of “the State of Palestine,” prompting Israel to summon its ambassador for “a severe reprimand.”


Algerian women pioneer eco-friendly farming

Updated 23 June 2024
Follow

Algerian women pioneer eco-friendly farming

  • The plant ecology and biodiversity graduates now run one of the country’s rare ecological plots of land, where the produce is grown in harmony with the broader ecosystem and without using pesticides

ALGIERS: Ibtissem Mahtout and Amira Messous pick fresh strawberries and tomatoes on the eco-friendly smallholding the two women are working near Algiers, a pioneering initiative in Algeria’s male-dominated agricultural sector.
After graduating from university four years ago, they left the capital and started working on the small patch of land in Douaouda, some 30 kilometers (18 miles) to the west.
“As soon as I’m in the field I’m happy,” said Messous, 28, holding a bundle of fresh beetroot.
“From morning to night, we’re here. To me, it’s the most beautiful job in the world.”
The plant ecology and biodiversity graduates now run one of the country’s rare ecological plots of land, where the produce is grown in harmony with the broader ecosystem and without using pesticides.

Amira Messous (L) and Ibtissem Mahtout (C) speak to a customer at their vegetable and fruit stand during the Friday market at an educational farm in Zeralda on May 30, 2024. (AFP)

Messous said it was challenging at first to “have to integrate” into a sector in which most people who work the land are men.
According to local media, as of last October just four percent of workers registered with the Chamber of Agriculture in Tipaza province where their land is were women.
But some “male farmers are happy to see educated women working the land,” said Messous.
“They take the time to explain things to us, and it brings more value to their own work.”
Her 29-year-old partner, Mahtout, recalls that they launched the project with just 60,000 Algerian dinars (around $445) — “enough to buy basic tools” — after renting the patch of land.

With the help of Torba, an association that promotes ecological farming in Algeria, they “learned to plant, to sow, to work the soil.”
Today, their 1,300-square-meter farm even employs one male worker full-time — and up to eight part-timers at harvest time.
When they are not in the fields themselves, the two women make full use of social media to sell their produce.

Ibtissem Mahtout (C) speaks with a customer who has come to pick up or buy their produce, at the Friday market at an educational farm in Zeralda, west of Algiers on May 30, 2024. (AFP)

On Instagram, they advertise their baskets of seasonal fruits and vegetables each week, and take orders for the produce on WhatsApp.
Come Friday, the first day of the Algerian weekend, clients pick up their orders at a larger farm in nearby Zeralda, where other smallholders also sell produce including flowers.
“We want to eat something healthy from time to time,” said Fatma Zohra, a 72-year-old loyal customer and subscriber to the small farm’s social media account.
“I found these girls very nice, and when I discovered they sell to subscribers, I wanted to encourage them.”
Each week, the pair sell between 10 and 30 baskets of fruit and vegetables that are in season.
The farm in Zeralda where they market their produce is also educational, and runs themed programs for children.
In addition to the Friday farmers’ market, it is also a meeting space for local families and offers cooking classes, entertainment and cultural events.
 


Tens of thousands rally against Israeli government

Updated 23 June 2024
Follow

Tens of thousands rally against Israeli government

  • Anti-government protest organization Hofshi Israel estimated more than 150,000 people attended the rally, calling it the biggest since the Gaza war began

TEL AVIV: Tens of thousands of protesters waving Israeli flags and chanting slogans against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government rallied in Tel Aviv Saturday, demanding new elections and the return of hostages held in Gaza.
Large protests have occurred in the Israeli city on a weekly basis over Netanyahu’s handling of the nearly nine-month-old war in Gaza started by Hamas’s October 7 attack on southern Israel.
Many protesters held signs reading “Crime Minister” and “Stop the War” as people poured into the biggest Israeli city’s main thoroughfare.
“I am here because I am afraid of the future of my grandchild. There will be no future for them if we don’t go out and get rid of the horrible government,” said 66-year-old contractor Shai Erel.
“All of the rats in the Knesset... I wouldn’t let any one of them be a guard of a kindergarten.”
Anti-government protest organization Hofshi Israel estimated more than 150,000 people attended the rally, calling it the biggest since the Gaza war began.
Some demonstrators lay on the ground covered in red paint in the city’s Democracy Square to protest what they say is the death of the country’s democracy under Netanyahu.
In an address to the crowd, a former head of Israel’s domestic Shin Bet security agency, Yuval Diskin, condemned Netanyahu as Israel’s “worst prime minister.”
Many are frustrated with the country’s right-wing coalition, which includes Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir and other far-right ultra-nationalists, accusing it of prolonging the war in Gaza and putting the country’s security and hostages at risk.
Yoram, a 50-year-old tour guide who declined to give his last name, said he was attending every weekly protest as Israel needed elections “yesterday” because of Netanyahu.
“I really hope that the government collapses,” he said. “If we go to the original date of elections in 2026, it is not going to be a democratic election.”
Hamas militants seized 251 hostages on October 7, of whom Israel believes 116 remain in Gaza, including 41 who the army says are dead.
A separate Tel Aviv rally on Saturday night drew thousands of relatives and supporters of the hostages.
The attack on Israel resulted in the deaths of 1,194 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive in Gaza has killed at least 37,551 people, also mostly civilians, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-ruled territory.
 

 


Israeli forces strap wounded Palestinian to jeep during raid

Updated 23 June 2024
Follow

Israeli forces strap wounded Palestinian to jeep during raid

  • A video circulating on social media and verified by Reuters showed a Palestinian resident of Jenin, Mujahed Azmi, on the jeep that passes through two ambulances

JERUSALEM: Israeli army forces strapped a wounded Palestinian man to the hood of a military jeep during an arrest raid in the occupied West Bank city of Jenin on Saturday. A video circulating on social media and verified by Reuters showed a Palestinian resident of Jenin, Mujahed Azmi, on the jeep that passes through two ambulances.
The Israeli military in a statement said Israeli forces were fired at and exchanged fire, wounding a suspect and apprehending him.
Soldiers then violated military protocol, the statement said. “The suspect was taken by the forces while tied on top of a vehicle,” it said.
The military said the “conduct of the forces in the video of the incident does not conform to the values” of the Israeli military and that the incident will be investigated and dealt with.
The individual was transferred to medics for treatment, the military said.
Reuters was able to match the location from corroborating and verified footage shared on social media that shows a vehicle transporting an individual tied on top of a vehicle in Jenin. The date was confirmed by an eyewitness interviewed by Reuters.
According to the family of Azmi, there was an arrest raid, and he was injured during the raid, and when the family asked for an ambulance, the army took Mujahed, strapped him on the hood and drove off.
Violence in the West Bank, already on the rise before the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza, has escalated since then with frequent army raids on militant groups, rampages by Jewish settlers in Palestinian villages, and deadly Palestinian street attacks.