After Military Push in Syria, Russia Plays Both Sides in Libya

RUSSIA

After Military Push in Syria, Russia Plays Both Sides in Libya

Kremlin-backed businessman befriends Tripoli government while Moscow shows support for its powerful opponent

Forces loyal to Khalifa Haftar, who has received Russian backing and dominates much of Libya’s east, prepare for military operations in April. ABDULLAH DOMA/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia—When Russia welcomed a Libyan warlord aboard its aircraft carrier last year, it looked like the Kremlin was throwing its weight behind a rival to the United Nations-backed government in the North African country.

But by that time a Russian businessman was already one year along on a quieter Kremlin-backed mission to court the official administration in Tripoli.

The envoy’s pursuits have confuted expectations that Moscow could give Khalifa Haftar, armed forces chief of the second of Libya’s two rival governments, the kind of decisive military clout that turned the tide in Syria in favor of leader Bashar al-Assad.

Instead, Russia has staked a foothold in Libya’s future by cultivating allies on opposing sides of the conflict.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov shows the way to Libyan commander Khalifa Haftar, center, during a meeting in Moscow in August.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov shows the way to Libyan commander Khalifa Haftar, center, during a meeting in Moscow in August. PHOTO: SERGEI KARPUKHIN/REUTERS

“We haven’t placed a bet on one player,” said Lev Dengov, the 34-year-old businessman who has spearheaded the Kremlin’s strategy in Libya. Leaders of the Tripoli government are now regular visitors to Russia, and Russian companies are exploring businesses opportunities in Libya.

Moscow’s efforts have extended its reach from the Middle East to North Africa and made it a central player in the resource-rich country.

While the U.S. is rival to Russia for influence in Syria, President Donald Trump said in April 2017 that he saw no role for the U.S. in Libya beyond combating Islamic State. Since then the U.S. has supported U.N. peace efforts and focused on counterterrorism, including airstrikes against militant groups.

Leaders of Libya’s warring political factions, including Fayez Sarraj, prime minister of the Tripoli government, and Mr. Haftar, who controls much of eastern Libya, set a path to elections later this year at a meeting in Paris on May 29. Moscow said it supports international mediation efforts.

Libya remains the main route for waves of undocumented migrants bound for Europe via the Mediterranean. Islamic State and other extremist groups that target Europe are ensconced in lawless areas throughout Libya.

Libyan Foreign Minister Mohamed Taher Siala said in an interview that the Tripoli government wanted Russia to take on a bigger role. “We want a balance between the external players,” he said.

Mr. Dengov’s role in Libya highlights how businessmen sometimes work to further the Kremlin’s power while advancing their own interests, goals that are often intertwined.

The Soviet Union had close ties to longtime Libyan dictator Col. Moammar Gadhafi, which Russian leader Vladimir Putin sought to rekindle on a visit in 2008 that brought billions of dollars in arms, oil and rail contracts.

Mr. Dengov said he began visiting Libya that year. Through various business projects he built relations with officials in Gadhafi’s administration, some of whom are now serving in rival governments, he said.

Lev Dengov, who has built ties for Moscow with the Libyan government in Tripoli, speaks at a May conference in St. Petersburg, where he encouraged Russian countries to invest in Libya.
Lev Dengov, who has built ties for Moscow with the Libyan government in Tripoli, speaks at a May conference in St. Petersburg, where he encouraged Russian countries to invest in Libya. PHOTO: DMITRI BELIAKOV FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

During the uprising in 2011 that took down the regime, Russia initially didn’t object to airstrikes by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization against Gadhafi’s forces. But after Gadhafi was captured and killed, Mr. Putin accused the U.S. and its allies of overstepping their mandate.

Mr. Haftar, a Soviet-trained former commander in Gadhafi’s military, had turned against the Libyan ruler and lived for two decades in exile in the U.S. before joining the uprising.

In 2014, he led a military campaign that he said was aimed at ridding the country of terrorists, bringing together disparate militias to take control of a swath of eastern Libya, including most of the country’s main oil-exporting ports.

At the end of that year, Mr. Dengov was made head of a diplomatic outreach to Libya under the supervision of the Russian Foreign Ministry and Ramzan Kadyrov, the president of the predominantly Muslim republic of Chechnya in southern Russia.

Mr. Kadyrov, an ally of Mr. Putin, is a central figure in Russia’s efforts in the Middle East, where he has myriad contacts and significant sway, Mr. Dengov said.

After Mr. Dengov arranged for a delegation led by Mr. Haftar’s son to visit Russia in 2015, Moscow started providing support. Ignoring protests from Tripoli, Russia printed Libyan currency in 2016 for the government allied with Mr. Haftar. As well as his trip on the warship, Mr. Haftar visited Moscow in 2016 and 2017.

A U.S. official said Russia had furnished Mr. Haftar’s forces with weapons and military advisers. Russia has denied this, saying it abides by a U.N. arms embargo. A spokesman for Mr. Haftar didn’t respond to requests for comment.

The Russian government sought to build international support for Mr. Haftar, including in the Trump administration. He has gained backing from Egypt and the United Arab Emirates—though both endorsed the plan to hold national elections.

Meanwhile, Mr. Dengov was working in Tripoli with a lower profile. One of his first tasks was to wrangle the release of 11 Russian sailors held over alleged oil smuggling. He succeeded, bringing them out in three groups in 2015 and 2016.

Libya’s opposing parties agreed at a meeting in Paris on May 29 to hold national elections in December. Participants included, from left: Khalifa Haftar and his ally Aguila Saleh from the leadership in eastern Libya, Fayez Sarraj, prime minister in the United Nations-backed government in Tripoli, and Khaled Mishri, the recently elected head of the High State Council, an advisory body based in Tripoli.
Libya’s opposing parties agreed at a meeting in Paris on May 29 to hold national elections in December. Participants included, from left: Khalifa Haftar and his ally Aguila Saleh from the leadership in eastern Libya, Fayez Sarraj, prime minister in the United Nations-backed government in Tripoli, and Khaled Mishri, the recently elected head of the High State Council, an advisory body based in Tripoli. PHOTO: ETIENNE LAURENT/PRESS POOL

To build trust, Mr. Dengov said, he also worked to dispel the image of Russia as siding with Mr. Haftar. “When we came to Tripoli, they said: ‘You are with Haftar,’” he said. “We offered them friendship.”

“The Russians realized they have to diversify their contacts,” said Frederic Wehrey, a Middle East expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “They sense an opportunity to play the role of a power broker.”

Russia’s reputation in Tripoli has been burnished, Mr. Dengov said, by the success of Mr. Putin’s military backing for Mr. Assad in Syria, which Moscow portrays as support for a legitimate government.

“People see that Russia is confident in the steps it takes. In Libya, they saw that our leader was a person who could take autonomous decisions,” said Mr. Dengov.

Mr. Dengov heads the Russian-Libyan Trade House, formed in 2017 by businessmen from the two countries to increase economic links. Russia is interested in reviving old deals made under Mr. Gadhafi, including in oil exploration and the construction of a railway line, and exploring new areas, such as agriculture and information technology, he said.

Mr. Dengov uses his contacts to help Russian companies establish connections in Libya and arranging security for visiting executives.

“We can use business to build up relations,” he said.

Russian state oil giant PAO Rosneft began purchasing crude from Libya’s state oil firm last year.

A delegation of Libyan security-service officials came to Moscow to meet Russian counterparts in April, Mr. Dengov said. Mr. Siala, the foreign minister, visited Russia twice in May, most recently for an economic forum in St. Petersburg where he appeared on a panel with Mr. Dengov and encouraged Russian companies to invest.

Mr. Siala didn’t indicate concern about Russia’s relations with Mr. Haftar. “Anyhow we are happy now that Russia is giving the same footing of importance for all the Libyans and all the political players,” he said in the interview.

Mr. Dengov is also making efforts to extend Tripoli’s influence in Libya’s oil-rich south by brokering peace at a local level. In November, he said, he met with tribes in the town of Ubari in the lawless region and persuaded them to align with Mr. Sarraj’s government in return for recognition of their municipal government.

On the panel in St. Petersburg, Mr. Dengov described efforts to convince disparate local groups of the value of having a Russian company invest in an oilfield, without giving further details.

“Political and economic links are inseparable,” he said.

Write to James Marson at james.marson@wsj.com

COURTESY: WSJ

Family of Suicide Bombers Attacks Churches in Indonesia

Attackers came from a single family; first time children involved in carrying terrorism in country

Motorcycles burned after a blast Sunday at one of three Christian churches targeted by a family of suicide bombers in the city of Surabaya in East Java, Indonesia.
Motorcycles burned after a blast Sunday at one of three Christian churches targeted by a family of suicide bombers in the city of Surabaya in East Java, Indonesia. PHOTO: ANTARA FOTO/HANDOUT SURABAYA GOVERNMENT/REUTERS

JAKARTA, Indonesia—A family of suicide bombers, including children, killed at least seven people and injured dozens in attacks at churches in Indonesia on Sunday, police said, the latest in a wave of Islamic State-inspired violence in the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation.

The attacks on Indonesia’s Christian minority come amid a rise in extremist violence and security lapses in a Southeast Asian nation where supporters of Islamic State have been seeking to wage large-scale attacks. It was the first time children have been involved in waging a terrorist attack in Indonesia, and the country’s deadliest act of terror in almost a decade.

Police sources said seven churchgoers and security personnel died in near-simultaneous morning bombings at three churches in Surabaya, Indonesia’s second-largest city, on the island of Java.

National Police Chief Tito Karnavian said the attackers came from a single family that had spent time in Syria in support of the terrorist group Islamic State, and whose head was the leader of a terrorist cell in Surabaya. All six family members died in the bombings, police said.

Mr. Karnavian said that in one of the attacks, the family’s mother and two daughters, ages 9 and 12, were killed when they detonated one or more bombs at the entrance to a church. He said he believed all three had bombs wrapped around their waists.

In another attack, he said two sons, ages 16 and 18, drove a motorcycle onto the grounds of a church and detonated a bomb. The biggest explosion was at a third church, where police believe the father detonated a car bomb.

Dozens of people were injured and taken to hospitals. Police said they defused bombs at Santa Maria Catholic church.

The Middle East-based terrorist group Islamic State claimed responsibility for what it called “three martyrdom operations.”

President Joko Widodo called the attacks “barbaric“ and said he would “uproot the cells entirely.”

Police also put Jakarta, the capital, on high alert. Terrorism experts warned of more attacks, with extremists rallying followers ahead of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, which begins this week.

Members of an Indonesian bomb squad surveyed the site of a Sunday morning attack at a church in Surabaya, Indonesia. A police source said the attackers included children carrying bombs.
Members of an Indonesian bomb squad surveyed the site of a Sunday morning attack at a church in Surabaya, Indonesia. A police source said the attackers included children carrying bombs. PHOTO: JUNI KRISWANTO/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

The bombings come amid a wave of bloodshed largely targeted at police.

Last week, inmates killed five police officers in a 36-hour siege of a terrorist-detention center in Jakarta.

Islamic State claimed responsibility for the revolt, the second uprising at the prison since Aman Abdurrahman, the de facto leader of Islamic State supporters in Indonesia, was transferred there last year to stand trial on charges of inciting followers to wage attacks. Those include one in Jakarta in January 2016 that was the first here to be linked to Islamic State and left four bystanders and four terrorists dead.

Early Sunday morning, police in western Java shot dead four suspected terrorists in a gunfight. They said the men were members of a pro-Islamic State group and had carried out paramilitary training with a plan to attack the Jakarta detention center.

There are indications that “several sleeper cells have started waking up,” said Setyo Wasisto, a police spokesman. “We suspect that there’s a command from Nusakambangan for them to act,” he added, referring to a maximum-security prison that houses some of the country’s highest-risk inmates.

“The killing of five police officers is seen by these terror cells as an invitation for them to do the same,” said Al Chaidar, a terrorism analyst from Malikussaleh University.

Islamic State is believed to use child soldiers in its heartlands of Iraq and Syria, and The Wall Street Journal reported in 2014 that ISIS religious schools in Aleppo and Deir Ezzourhad recruited children. Last year, the terror group published a video of a toddler shooting dead a prisoner in Syria.

Hundreds of Indonesians have traveled to the Middle East in recent years to support Islamic State, and authorities worry that their influence and possible return could lead to new attacks, a concern shared by Indonesia’s neighbors in Southeast Asia. Last year, Islamic State-linked militants took control of the southern Philippine town of Marawi for several months.

Write to Ben Otto at ben.otto@wsj.com and I Made Sentana at i-made.sentana@wsj.com

COURTESY: WSJ

French ‘hero’ policeman who took place of hostage dies of gunshot wounds

An officer who was wounded after changing places with a hostage during a supermarket siege in southwestern France has died. The death toll is now four in what President Macron called an “Islamist terrorist attack.”

Watch video02:03

Police hostage in French shooting spree dies

A French policeman who voluntarily swapped places with a hostage during a siege on a supermarket in the town of Trebes on Friday has died of his bullet injuries.

Arnaud Beltrame, who once served in Iraq, had been rushed to hospital after being shot three times.

“He fell as a hero, giving up his life to halt the murderous rampage of a jihadist terrorist,” President Emmanuel Macron said in a statement shortly before dawn on Saturday.

French police have detained a 17-year-old in connection with the probe into the terror attack that killed four people, including Beltrame.

The man is a friend of Friday’s attacker, identified by prosecutors as Redouane Lakdim, a 25-year-old Moroccan-born French national. Lakdim was killed in a shootout at the supermarket.

Paris prosecutor Francois Molins said on Friday another person, a woman close to Lakdim, was taken into custody over alleged links to the terror attack. Molins didn’t identify her.

‘Not surprised by son’s courage’

On Friday, officer Beltrame offered himself up unarmed to the attacker in exchange for a female hostage. He managed to keep his cellphone on, enabling his colleagues outside to listen in on events inside the supermarket.

When they heard shots being fired, the police stormed the building and killed the gunman.

Beltrame’s mother said she wasn’t surprised by her son’s courage.

“I’m not surprised. I knew it had to be him. He has always been like that. It’s someone, since he was born, who gives everything for his homeland,” she told French RTL radio on Friday before the announcement of his death.

French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb also lauded the 44-year-old officer’s heroic action.  In a tweet, Collomb said Beltrame had died for his country and that France would not forget “his heroism, his bravery, his sacrifice.”

Le lieutenant-colonel Arnaud Beltrame nous a quittés.
Mort pour la patrie.
Jamais la France n’oubliera son héroïsme, sa bravoure, son sacrifice.
Le coeur lourd, j’adresse le soutien du pays tout entier à sa famille, ses proches et ses compagnons de la @Gendarmerie de l’Aude.

The national gendarmerie said its flags would fly at half-mast on Saturday in tribute to the slain officer.

Watch video01:13

Suspect in French terror attack killed by police

‘IS’ claims responsibility

The “Islamic State” (IS)-linked Aamaq news agency said the attacker was responding to the group’s calls to target countries in a US-led military coalition that includes France. The coalition has been fighting the terrorist group in Syria and Iraq since 2014.

Read moreTwo years after Bataclan terrorist attacks France ‘must forget’

“Our country has suffered an Islamist terrorist attack,” Macron said on Friday, while noting that investigators were verifying the IS claim.

Macron also said that investigators were looking into how the attacker obtained his gun and when he had become radicalized.

More than 240 people have been killed in France in attacks since 2015 by assailants who either pledged allegiance to “Islamic State” or were inspired by the group.

ap/tj (Reuters, AP, AFP)

Each evening at 1830 UTC, DW’s editors send out a selection of the day’s hard news and quality feature journalism. You can sign up to receive it directly here.

COURTESY: DW

Islamic State suicide bomber kills 29 as Afghans celebrate new year

Islamic State suicide bomber kills 29 as Afghans celebrate new year
Afghan security officials inspect the scene of a suicide bomb blast Wednesday that targeted a shrine visited by Shiite Muslims in Kabul, Afghanistan, as the country observes the Nowruz Persian New Year. (Hedayatullah Amid / EPA / Shutterstock)

 

An Islamic State suicide bomber struck on the road to a Shiite shrine in Afghanistan’s capital on Wednesday, killing at least 29 people as Afghans celebrated the Persian new year.

The Public Health Ministry said 52 others were wounded in the attack, which was carried out by a bomber on foot.

The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack in an online statement, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors jihadi websites. Islamic State said the attack targeted “a gathering of Shiites celebrating Nowruz.”

The Persian new year, known in Afghanistan as Nowruz, is a national holiday, and the country’s minority Shiites typically celebrate by visiting shrines. The Sunni extremists of Islamic State have repeatedly targeted Shiites, whom they view as apostates deserving of death.

The attack took place near Kabul University and a government hospital, around one mile from the Sakhi shrine, where people were gathered to celebrate the new year, said Gen. Daud Amin, Kabul’s police chief.

The chief said the attacker managed to slip past police checkpoints set up along the road. He said that an investigation into the security breach is underway, and that anyone found to have neglected his duties would be punished.

Earlier this month, another Islamic State suicide bomber targeted Afghanistan’s ethnic Hazaras, killing nine people and wounding 18 others. The bomber blew himself up at a police checkpoint near a gathering of minority Shiites in western Kabul.

That bomber also was on foot and was trying to make his way to a compound where the Hazaras had gathered to commemorate the 1995 death of their leader, Abdul Ali Mazari, who was killed by the Taliban.

Kabul has recently seen a spate of large-scale militant attacks by the Taliban and Islamic State group. In late January, a Taliban attacker drove an ambulance filled with explosives into the heart of the city, killing at least 103 people and wounding as many as 235.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani condemned the attack in a statement, calling it a “crime against humanity.”

Despite the earlier bombing, by afternoon, many people — including women and children — came into the streets wearing colorful clothing to continue celebrating the new year holiday.

Courtesy: Los Angeles Times

‘Islamic State’ follower convicted for trying to create ‘army of children’ in London

British “Islamic State” supporter Umar Haque has been found guilty of trying to recruit children to carry out attacks across London. Haque had shown children videos of beheadings and made them re-enact previous attacks.

UK | trial of Umar Haque (picture-alliance/empics/E. Cook)A sketch of Umar Haque during his final hearing at the Old Bailey in London

A 25-year-old British man was found guilty on Thursday of trying to recruit children to carry out attacks in the British capital.

London’s Old Bailey Court heard how Umar Haque was “fascinated by the warped and extreme ideology” of the so-called “Islamic State” (IS) jihadi group. Haque was accused of trying to radicalize children he taught at a mosque and two private Islamic schools.

Read more: Germany: How do terrorist groups compare?

Despite having no teaching qualifications and being employed as an administrator, Haque used the guise of teaching Islamic studies to indoctrinate children into becoming militants for IS. His tactics included showing the children violent beheading videos and forcing them to re-enact attacks on London, such as Khalid Masood’s attack on Westminster Bridge last year.

“His plan was to create an army of children to assist with multiple terrorist attacks throughout London,” the head of the Metropolitan Police’s Counter Terrorism Command, Dean Haydon, said. “He tried and he did, we believe, radicalize vulnerable children from the ages of 11 to 14.”

Prosecutors said Haque had targeted popular landmarks in the British capital, including Big Ben, Heathrow Airport, and the Westfield shopping center in east London.

Watch video04:00

Terror in Europa – its economic impact

Children ‘paralyzed by fear’

Some 110 children had come into contact with Haque’s teachings in the past year, authorities said. Of those, 35 are undergoing long-term safeguarding measures through social services and other authorities.

Six others gave evidence during Haque’s trial, detailing how he made them do push-ups and taught them to fight.

Haydon told the court that the children had been “paralyzed by fear” into not telling their parents or other teachers, warning that if they did they would suffer the same fate as those in the videos he had shown them.

Read more: Madrid to Manchester to Barcelona: A chronology of terror in Europe

Questions were also raised over why no issues had been raised at the school, which had been rated outstanding by government inspectors.

“He shouldn’t have been teaching, so that’s a concern,” the Metropolitan Police’s Haydon said. “We have had challenges with both the local community and some of these institutions.”

As he was dragged from the dock by court officers, Haque yelled at the court: “You will clearly see Islamic State establish itself in the Arabian peninsula and that droughts will affect Europe and America.”

Two other men were also convicted of aiding and abetting Haque. They will be sentenced at a later date.

DW editors send out a selection of the day’s hard news and quality feature journalism. You can sign up to receive it directly here.

dm/aw (AP, Reuters)

Watch video03:32

“Islamic State” recruits return to Europe – Q&A with Maxim Bratersky

COURTESY: DW

Turkey denies use of chemical weapons in Syria

Turkey says it has “never used chemical weapons” after claims it used a toxic gas during an offensive in Afrin, Syria. Local doctors had been quoted as saying they treated people for exposure to chemical gases.

The northern Syrian Kurdish town of Afrin (Getty Images/AFP/A. Shafie Bilal)

Turkey on Saturday denied allegations that it had used poisonous gas during operations in the northwestern Afrin region of Syria, following accusations from a human rights group and local news outlets.

Responding to claims that six men were treated for symptoms in line with exposure to toxic gas after a shelling offensive on Friday, a Turkish diplomatic source said Turkey had “never used” chemical weapons in Syria and accusations that it had done so during its offensive against the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia were “baseless.”

Read more: Turkey’s military offensive against Kurdish-held Afrin: What you need to know

“Turkey never used chemical weapons,” the diplomat said. “[These are] lies…This is black propaganda.”

The White House said it was “extremely unlikely” the Turkish military used chemical weapons against the Kurds.

Turkey claims the YPG is linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been fighting a rebellion against the Turkish state since 1984.

Watch video03:57

Strong support for Turkish offensive, dissent suppressed

Reports of chemical gas use

Turkey launched an air and ground offensive dubbed “Olive Branch” in January on the Afrin region, opening a new front in the multi-sided Syrian war, to target Kurdish fighters in northern Syria.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) on Friday reported that six civilians had breathing difficulties and other symptoms after a suspected poisonous gas attack.

Read more: Syrian conflict: Where does the Assad regime stand on the Afrin offensive?

Syrian Kurdish news outlets and state-run news agency SANA also reported the alleged attack on the village of Sheikh Hadid in the Kurdish-controlled enclave of Afrin in the country’s northwest.

SOHR and the news outlets quoted local doctors in Afrin as saying the victims experienced shortness of breath, vomiting and skin rashes.

SANA on Saturday said Turkey had fired several shells containing “toxic substances” on a village.

France to retaliate if chemical weapons used

French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday said that “France will strike” if chemical weapons were used against civilians in Syria, but that he was yet to see proof of their use.

In May 2017, Macron said he had set a “red line” at the use of chemical weapons.

Following Macron’s warning, the Syrian government denied it possessed chemical weapons, saying they were “immoral and unacceptable,” SANA reported.

A call from the United Nations for a nationwide humanitarian ceasefire in Syria has largely been ignored.

law/jm (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)

Each evening at 1830 UTC, DW’s editors send out a selection of the day’s hard news and quality feature journalism. You can sign up to receive it directly here.

COURTESY: DW

The Islamic State: Dawn of a new Caliphate in Nigeria?

 

Opinion, Nigeria,

Gabby Ogbechie. The Property Gazette 

Nigeria, the largest country in the West African sub-region, in terms of population, and the richest in economic terms, owing to the abundance of Crude oil and Gas reserves in its Niger-Delta or south-south region, is currently experiencing an influx of, or invasion by heavily armed militants (terrorists) whom the Federal Government described as ISIS, suggestive of an imminent, planned uprising that would inevitably culminate in the establishment of another Islamic Caliphate in Africa.

It is no longer news that the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq has been so degraded and depleted, and all its territories in Syria and Iraq recaptured that one would presume that both the Caliphate and ISIS as an ignoble entity are finished. Moreover, attempts by Al-Shabaab to establish an African caliphate have been creditably resisted by the Somali government.

However, the obnoxious fact that stares the world in the face is that the leadership of ISIS, notably Abu Bakar al Baghdadi and his close and immediate associates, with a few exceptions, are well and alive. With some state sponsors of terrorism in the Middle East still willing and able to make things happen for the cause of jihad and Islam, Baghdadi could be anywhere right now. And no one, it seems, not Syria, not Iraq, not Russia which ascribes to itself alone, the credit of defeating ISIS and bringing the Syrian war to a close; and certainly not the United States which dithered and redrew the ‘’red-line’’ several times before the emergence of President Trump, is interested in either capturing or having Baghdadi neutralized.

Aside from having so many countries in the Middle East that would readily host him, an option, for Baghdadi, could be the establishment of another caliphate. In terms of where an alternative caliphate could be situated, Asia is simply out of it; predominantly Islamic countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia, Pakistan, etc. would not allow it under the open glare of the world, especially the United States.

With options for the relocation of its caliphate running thin, it is not inconceivable that ISIS may, once more, turn its gaze towards Africa, having some years back been expelled from Mali by France. And the obvious choice of the country where it would find support and sustenance is Nigeria from which Boko Haram had hitherto pledged allegiance.

Moreover, unlike Chad which banked on the support and assistance of its erstwhile colonial master France to come to its rescue, Nigeria does not currently have any Defence Pact with any of the world powers to come to its assistance. If anything, most Nigerian leaders have leaned towards the OIC, the Organization of Islamic Conference, and like most African countries, had out-rightly declined participation in Africom (African Command Defense Pact ), a joint African and American force to be headquartered in any African country. At the time in question, circa 2009, under the President George W. Bush administration, Muammar Gadhafi of Libya led the resistance against the establishment of Africom in Africa for the purpose of fighting terrorism.

Why Nigeria? One may be tempted to ask

In terms of perception, Nigeria, a member of the Organization of Islamic Conference which the erstwhile military President, Ibrahim Babangida foisted on the nation, is largely divided in terms of ethnicity and religion: In the core north, you have the north-west states of Sokoto, Zamfara, Kebbi,and Niger made up of Muslim Hausa-Fulani, and Kwara state which was mostly Yoruba, but was subsumed into Hausa-Fulani oligarchy through the imposition of an emir by the settler Hausa-Fulani; north-central Hausa-Fulani states of Kano, Katsina, Jigawa, Bauchi, and Gombe who are Muslim, and Kaduna, whose south-end is peopled by the Christians that are currently being subjected to ethnic cleansing. *

The north-east states, consisting of Adamawa, Bornu, Taraba and Yobe states which are peopled by mostly the Junkun and Kanuri, and within which zone Boko Haram birthed its insurgency with a view to forcefully converting the indigenous people to Islam, are non-Muslims; the middle-belt, mostly Christian states of Benue and Plateau, and mostly Muslim Nasarawa state peopled by the Hausa-Fulani, and Plateau, Benue and Kogi states peopled by the Igarra, Tiv, Idoma, Egere and settler Fulani.

The south-east states, namely Abia, Anambra, Enugu, Imo, and Ebonyi are Christian Ibo states; the south-west, Yoruba states made up of Ekiti, Lagos, Ondo, Osun and Oyo are two-third Christians, and the rest Muslims; and the south-south states of Cross River, Akwa-Ibom, Rivers, Bayelsa, Delta and Edo states consist of a hotchpotch of Ibos, Efik, Ibibio, Edo, Urhobo, Itsekiri and Ijaw are mostly Christians. Incidentally, the south-south states are the most deprived, despite the fact of being the cash-cow of the economy from where oil and gas are extracted.

The core Fulani-Hausa north who have been in power in the Federal Government for over 80% of the life of the republic, have foreclosed the option of including religion on Census menu because that would have revealed the percentages of Christians, Moslems and Traditional religionists within the land space of the federation.

Since the north-west and north-central are the core Muslim states; the middle-belt states mainly Christian; the north-east mainly Christian and partially Muslim; the east and south-south Christians; the west, mainly Christian and partially Muslim, it is ridiculous to have Nigeria referred to as a Muslim country. In objective truth, Nigeria, although politically dominated by the Muslim Hausa-Fulani, is by no dint of the imagination a Moslem country.

As the whole world now knows, one of the most vicious, Islamic terrorist groups the world has seen is Boko Haram, which translates into ‘’Western Education is forbidden.’’ As should have been expected, the Boko Haram insurgency did not emanate from the predominantly Muslim states; it was conceived within the north-east where the cattle-Fulani settlers settled, mainly in Bornu state.

In more ways than one, the plot of the ethnic-religio crises in the process of imploding was hatched by the British colonialists who, in spite of their experience with the Palestinian quagmire which neither the Balfour Declaration, the Oslo Accord nor any other conceived solution could solve, went ahead to create the deadly Christian-Islam country named Nigeria, instead of creating two separate countries; one in the north and the second in the south. For the frivolous reason of cutting its administrative costs, the British merged the Northern and Southern Protectorates, which had neither cultural nor religious ties into one huge imminently explosive country.

The Boko Haram Quagmire

It was in 2002/2003 in the last days of the Olusegun Obasanjo Presidency that the nation and the entire world heard the stirrings of Boko Haram. First was the incident when this small band of Islamic fundamentalists attacked a Police unit in Maiduguri in Bornu State; killed some policemen and carted away small arms. Several of such incidents, such as attacking churches and few mosques followed until the major event which marked the arrival of the Boko Haram insurgency; the attack and bombing of the UN building in Abuja during the inception of the Goodluck Jonathan administration in 2006.

The Olusegun Obasanjo administration did virtually nothing to stamp out the insurgency because the inception of Boko Haram coincided with the period it was engrossed in its ‘’third term agenda.’’ Just like he did with the institution of the Sharia Islamic Law in Zamfara State which he later characterized as ‘’Political Sharia’’; ignoring it as if it wasn’t happening, he ignored this ogre at its incipient stage when it would have been wiped out relatively easily, and progressed to the stage when attacks occurred almost two or three times every week all over the northern states.

Up to date, it is estimated that over 25 thousand souls have been wiped out; thousands of homes burnt; scores of villages destroyed; and millions displaced through the terrorism Boko Haram unleashed on the nation and adjoining countries such as Cameroon, Chad and Niger. Boko Haram’s abduction of nearly 300 adolescent schoolgirls from the Federal Government Girls Secondary School from the small town Chibok, with the active connivance politicians bent on discrediting the Goodluck Jonathan Administration was what finally announced Boko Haram to the world, and unleashed the #BringBackOurGirls movement.

Typically, the thoroughly organized slaughter which political correctness in Nigeria define as ‘’herdsmen/farmers’’ clashes usually begin with Fulani herdsmen trespassing into farmsteads, destroying the huts constructed by farmers, and then proceeding to chopping yam and cassava tubers into tiny bits for the consumption convenience of their cattle. If unfortunately such farmers dare to challenge such herdsmen, their usual reaction is to shoot such farmers for having the temerity to question their actions. From there, they usually bulldoze their way into the village or town; destroy and set as many homes as they can on fire. As residents of such home struggle out of their burning homes, they are met with gunfire.
As Nigerians were adjusting to a new life of seeing churches, markets, mosques, motor parks and police stations firebombed, leading up to the elections which brought the President Buhari government to power, another rude awakening came by way of incessant killings by the itinerant ‘’Janjaweed militia’’ locally known as Fulani herdsmen. Prior to this latter day development, the nation had gotten used to the so called ‘’Fulani herdsmen/farmers clashes’’ in Plateau and Benue States especially, but of a sudden, about a year to the general elections which was headlined by the Presidential election, the Fulani herdsmen began to unleash terror in most middle-belt, north-east and southern non-Muslim states; and have been observed to be upping the ante towards the 2019 elections.

To date, Fulani herdsmen have surpassed Boko Haram in terms of the number of people killed in the non-Fulani states. A very important aspect of these attacks is that as soon as they enter farms, after destroying the barns and whole farmsteads, they condition such farms for imminent grazing by setting the farms and bushes on fire under the notion that the past season’s bushes and brushes must give way for grass to grow unhindered with the first rains. The great Nigerian novelist, Cyprian Ekwensi detailed the havoc Fulani herders wreak on land in his epic novel, Burning Grass. Were the lessons outlined in that book to have been taken to heart by successive governments, the current menace would have been avoided. 

While it is commonplace to find whole villages and communities entirely razed by herdsmen, village heads, important personalities are kidnapped and ransomed before they are released by herdsmen. A former Head of Service and Presidential Candidate, Chief Olu Falae was kidnapped by Fulani Herdsmen; his farm ransacked; and some of his farm workers slaughtered and lots more beaten up and wounded. It took the intervention of the Buhari administration before Olu Falae was released. The Obi of Ubulu-Uku was abducted, and after ransom money was paid, he was still killed. 

As lately as on 6th instant, Governor Ortom of Benue had his farm destroyed. Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue state has disclosed that his farm located at his village in Gbajimba, the headquarters of Guma local government area has been attacked by Fulani mercenaries destroying the farm products.

The governor who disclosed this while fielding questions from journalists at the government house in Makurdi also said that the corpse of a policeman who was killed by armed Fulani herdsmen and dumped in the bush had been discovered by the traditional rulers in Guma and handed over to the police authorities in the state.

Governor Ortom regretted the continued unwarranted attacks on people of the state despite the relocation of the Inspector General of Police, Mr. Ibrahim Idris on the orders of President Muhammadu Buhari to the state saying the quantum of destruction on his farm cannot be ascertained as manager of the farm had run away for his dear life leaving the entire farm at the mercy of the invaders.

The testimony of a former member of the Federal House of Representatives from southern Kaduna sums up the whole gamut of the scourge of Fulani herdsmen. He said among many other things that whole villages and communities in southern Kaduna are being systematically subjected to ethnic cleansing, and denied every imaginable amenity by the Federal and State governments, while making such amenities available to the settler Fulanis who are gradually taking over their land. Furthermore, because Christians and churches are the primary targets of fundamentalism, the Church, which has remained taciturn and mealy-mouthed has been forced to start speaking up. While the Pastors of most of the big churches have kept mum, a few have been speaking out, irrespective of what it may result to. Among the few who have been vocal against Fulani herders’ killings are Rev. Issa Buba, Joseph Okechukwu, etc.Ben Murray-Bruce

 

On his part, Senator Ben Murray-Bruce, speaking in the Senate Chamber, informed the Senators that there were developments within the polity that defied explanation. He stated that they were all in shock to hear Senator Marafa voice his agitation over the presence of heavily armed strangers who may not be Nigerians in Zamfara state. He went as far as stating that it didn’t make sense for the Senate to pass resolutions time after time and yet nothing gets done. (Please watch). He further wondered that with the incessant killings in the north-east, middle-belt, south-east, south-west and south-south by marauding Fulani herdsmen, Nigeria was fast becoming a ‘’lawless country’’. 

On the 6th instant, a report on Daily Post online stated that a former minister of Aviation, Femi Fani Kayode has reacted to the killing of Officer-in-Charge of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, SARS, Saki Unit in the Oyo State Police Command by Fulani herdsmen.

The SARS boss was reported to have been macheted to death by the Fulani herdsmen during an operation in a forest on the Saki-Ogbooro Road in Oke-Ogun area of the state.

Reacting , Fani Kayode said law and order had been broken in the country as no one was safe, even security agents, from Fulani herdsmen whom he described as ‘bloodsucking’.

On his official twitter page, he wrote: “A SARS police officer was cut into tiny pieces with machetes by Fulani terrorists in Saki, Oyo state yesterday. Law and order has broken down and even our security agents are being targeted and slaughtered in open daylight by these bloodthirsty and bloodsucking Fulani herdsmen.‎”

On a personal note, many people in the Press and the Social Media have consistently reported an obvious build-up of strange people all over the south. On the average, one finds that for every street on property security personnel, there are on the average well over five to ten others who either loiter around, or have become itinerant cobblers, tailors, etc. Many believe that what we are witnessing is the rapid deployment/spread of Boko Haram and Islamic fundamentalist terrorists all over the country, by whom, no one seems to know.

The fact that the Legislature and the administration had been considering the Grazing Bill which tends to elevate the ‘’rights’’ of cattle and their owners above that of the average citizen by according proprietary rights to graze to cattle over user rights by citizens, and that the Federal Government had remained taciturn over the menace of Fulani herdsmen, and finally, President Buhari’s resolve to create ‘’Cattle Colonies’’ in every state emphasized the impression that the government valued the life of cattle above human life.

The only positive development in all of these is that the President finally spoke concerning the vexatious subject. He tweeted:
The recent killings in Benue, Adamawa, Taraba, and Zamfara states are all regrettable, and saddening. But even more importantly, I am very much aware of all the issues at stake, and doing my best to ensure that justice is done and the security of lives and property guaranteed.
56 replies96 retweets93 likes
The security agencies have standing instructions to arrest and prosecute any and all persons found with illegal arms. In addition, quite a number of arrests have been made so far, in relation to the killings, and all these persons will be duly prosecuted.
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Bukola Saraki
The Nigerian Senate, in its bit to halt the embarrassing state of killings within the economy, convened a two-day Security summit. The Senate President, Senator Olusola Saraki tweeted:

”Following the spike in the bloodletting over the New Year period, today, the Senate convened a #SecuritySummit to review the entire security architecture of the country”.

In his opening address, he said amongst other things:

”The spike in the bloodletting over the New Year period injected another note of urgency into the matter, and further served to augment the mandate of the Committee, whose members suspended their recess to conduct a fact-finding visit to Benue State, scene of one of the recent killings. From that visit on 12th January 2018, the Committee had a report ready for the Senate upon resumption on 16th January. It was on the back of that, that we passed the Resolution to organise this Summit – to review the entire security architecture of the country. I would like to thank the members of the Committee – Chaired by Senate Leader, Distinguished Senator Ahmed Lawan – for their hard work and commitment to this national assignment, and the expedient manner in which they discharged their functions.

The sharp increase in murderous violence, over and above the relatively manageable level of insecurity that has plagued our country for some time, jolted us out any last vestiges of complacency or denial. There can be no denying the horrific reality in many parts of our country today. People who should be neighbours are turning on one another and taking up arms. These attacks and reprisal attacks are an intolerable cycle of hell that must be broken. Killings, kidnappings, mayhem and general lawlessness cannot be the new normal. We must take this country back and restore order.”

The implication of a Nigerian Islamic Caliphate

The foremost implication of an islamic Caliphate being established in Nigeria means firstly a replication of the Syrian situation multiplied five-fold. However, whereas Europe and the world welcomed Syrian and Iraqi refugees with open arms, no one is willing or ready to welcome refugees from another ”Muslim country” given the current notion that the refugee path has become an avenue for Muslim invasion of Europe.

We must decide as a nation whether which we treasure more; our ethnic and spiritual affiliations, or the continued existence of our nation.