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Chad arrests 62 women for wearing veils after bombings

Chadian authorities banned wearing full veils in public places in June to prevent suicide attacks [AFP]

Chad police have arrested 62 women for wearing full veils in public as the country steps up security against following a multiple suicide bombing attack, a police spokesman said.Authorities also arrested eight suspected attackers, police spokesman Paul Manka said on Thursday.

The first major arrests of women for the veil ban have been carried out in the capital, N'djamena, since Wednesday in line with "anti-terrorism" measures, he said.
People & Power: Chad - at war with Boko Haram

Chadian authorities banned wearing full veils in public places in June to prevent suicide attacks, especially by the Nigerian armed group Boko Haram.

The group used women and children to carry out five suicide bombings in a village near Lake Chad on Saturday, killing at least 36 people.

Police also arrested eight suspected attackers in the operation, Manka said.

The women will be released after paying a 100,000 CFA ($170) fine, he said, adding that if they are repeatedly arrested they will be charged with complicity with attackers.

Muslim-majority Chad banned the full-face veil, ramped up security measures and bombed Boko Haram positions in Nigeria in June after the first ever attack by the armed group in its capital.

Boko Haram has used dozens of girls and women in recent suicide bombings in Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon and Niger, raising fears it is using kidnap victims to target countries that have pledged to contribute to a regional force to combat the group.

Boko Haram's six-year-old fight has left an estimated 20,000 people dead as it seeks to carve out an Islamic state in northeastern Nigeria, according to Amnesty International.

Source: Aljazeera Africa:

I remember the day... I confronted Boko Haram

Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani | 15 Sep 2015 15:24 GMT | War & Conflict, Africa, Nigeria, My Nigeria

A former captain in the Nigerian army remembers the day he faced Boko Haram - and found that his weapons were defective.
Boko Haram has killed at least 15,000 people and displaced 1.5 million since 2009 [Riccardo Raffa/Al Jazeera]
Jefferson (not his real name) jumped off the truck and flung his bulky frame onto the sand and shrubs beneath him. He raised his head and scoured the terrain. The 30 soldiers who had just arrived alongside him were taking fighting positions - some diving, others crouching.

They were in Mongonu, a town in northeast Nigeria's Borno State, to provide reinforcements for a military convoy that had, earlier that morning, been ambushed by Boko Haram.

Many of the town's 20,000 inhabitants had fled; others had been incorporated into the Boko Haram frontline - terrified human shields protecting the 200 or so members of the group who were now attacking, determination etched onto their faces, sophisticated weaponry in their hands.

But as Jefferson caught his first glimpse of the fighters, it was surprise, not fear that he felt.

"They were not what I expected," he recalls now, describing how many of the men had the kind of light skin, curly hair and fine facial features normally associated with indigenes of Chad or Niger or other countries along Nigeria's northern border.

And the ease with which they fired their Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPGs) made it immediately clear that, far from being the mob of ragamuffins he had envisioned, these fighters were well-trained and highly efficient.

Just a few weeks earlier, in June 2013, Jefferson, a captain in the Nigerian army, had assumed duty as the commander of a 'garrison quick response force' in Borno. It was his first posting to the troubled northeastern region, which, at that point, had already endured more than four years of Boko Haram attacks.

And this was to be his first encounter with the infamous fighters.

The captain quickly overcame his surprise and prepared to attack.

But things did not go according to plan.

"The first shock I got was finding out that the firing pin of my rocket propelled grenade was damaged," he says.

Then, when he and his soldiers discharged their mortars, all they got for their efforts was a hollow kpoi sound. Their weapons had expired and were, effectively, useless.

They quickly discovered that some of their raw ammunition had no links and the charges for their equipment were broken. Wrapping them in the masking tape he always carried around in his kit proved ineffective.

A training session had been taking place in their barracks when the news of the Boko Haram ambush had reached them. They had grabbed as much ammunition from their stores as they could before heading out to battle - never imagining that it would be defective.

But now, here they were, being attacked with weapons intended for use against aircraft with nothing but small arms with which to defend themselves.

Jefferson recalls how one veteran soldier, a grey-haired, wrinkled man under his command, threw away his gun and broke down in tears, declaring: "Oh God! Oga, what is this?"

Analysts say Nigeria's military is underfunded and poorly equipped in its battle against Boko Haram [Riccardo Raffa/Al Jazeera]

'The worst thing that can happen to a soldier'

Jefferson was 19 years old when he joined the Nigerian army in 1986.

He had the necessary academic credits and the desire to go to university, but his father, a farmer, had three wives and 12 living children, and Jefferson knew that his family could not afford to pay for his education.

The army appeared to be his best option.

Over the next few decades of military service, he participated in peacekeeping missions in Yugoslavia, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Sudan; sustaining severe injuries during combat and while training; and once returning home from an assignment abroad to find that his wife had run off with her lover, taking their only child with her.

But, for Jefferson, all of these misfortunes paled in comparison to the events of that day in Mongonu.

"Discovering on the battlefield that your ammunition is expired or faulty," he says, tailing off.

"That is the worst thing that can ever happen to a soldier."

In such circumstances, a soldier with no plans to die anytime soon is typically faced with little option but to flee the battlefield. And there have been plenty of news stories about Nigerian soldiers doing just that over the past year.

Such reports have embarrassed the government and perplexed the country's citizens, sometimes pointing to the Nigerian army's inability to match the firepower of Boko Haram; at other times blaming low morale among the soldiers, a by-product of pot-bellied senior officers in comfortable Abuja offices swallowing the allowances of junior officers on the Borno battlefields.

"But we didn't run away," says Jefferson proudly.

After six to seven hours of battle - during which three Nigerian army soldiers were killed and dozens wounded - Jefferson's unit succeeded, with assistance from subsequent reinforcements, in repelling the Boko Haram fighters.

He credits "the grace of God" for the series of fortunate events that led to the victory.

Particularly providential was the training session that had been taking place in the barracks. Among the trainers were seasoned soldiers like Jefferson and other "special force instructors".

"There are not many well-trained soldiers in the Nigerian army today," Jefferson explains. And under other circumstances, such soldiers would not have been around to assist his unit.

He describes the stringent recruitment process he endured before being admitted into the army in 1986; the tough physical and mental training; the trainees who, unable to cope, fell by the wayside; the extra effort required to prove that he was better than others from the same part of the country because the army could only retain a certain number from each state in the federation.

Once he made it, he was sent to the Airborne Training School in Jaji for further training. A few weeks later, he emerged a bona fide private with a sense of "utmost patriotism" and a resolve to die for his country.

"I was taught that anything that would bring about the failure of the system was an enemy," he says.

The hajia list

But, for Jefferson, things began to change during the military regimes of Generals Ibrahim Babangida and Sani Abacha in the 1990s. He noticed how a number of failed military coups had infused the top ranks of the Nigerian army with fear and distrust for one another.

Senior government officers started sending trucks to their home villages to gather unemployed young men, who they then signed on as soldiers.

Boko Haram has carried out deadly ambushes across Nigeria's borders [Riccardo Raffa/Al Jazeera]

Jefferson watched as many of these new recruits were unleashed on the army, with barely a few weeks of basic training under their belts. Those who had connections in high places were often exempted from tough physical training on the parade ground. And this soon led to what was known among Jefferson's cadre of soldiers as the 'hajia list' of recruits.

"They didn't know basic regimentation," Jefferson explains. "They didn't know the parts of a rifle or even how to cork a gun."

However, they were experts at polishing the shoes and ironing the clothes of their employers and superiors, to whom they considered themselves devoted. Hence, the term 'hajia', a common way of addressing Muslim women in Nigeria.

It soon struck Jefferson that these soldiers were being groomed to be completely loyal to their bosses. Those at the top were steadily building an army of soldiers who would serve them, not necessarily the country.

The nepotism became so ingrained that Jefferson noticed some of his colleagues from different ethnic groups changing their names to give the impression that they were from the ethnic or religious group they felt would win them the most favour at any point in time.

Allegations of government officials and 'emirs', local Muslim leaders, sending lists of soldiers they wanted commissioned became rife.

Today, Jefferson attributes his slow rise from private to captain to the fact that he had no connections; no one to influence the trajectory of his career and follow up on his postings.

Still, seven years after joining the army, he finally fulfilled his dream of going to university. The army sent him to study a social science course at one of Nigeria's most prestigious universities. A few years later, he returned to the same institution to study for a masters' degree. And then, for a PhD, which was truncated by the call of duty two years into the programme.

In addition to his qualifications, Jefferson was sent to different military training programmes around the world, and received a number of awards for excellence.

But these distinctions only frustrated him further.

"No matter how well I performed," he says, "those with lower scores and less qualifications were constantly promoted over me."

They may have discriminated against him when it came to promotions, but Jefferson's bosses were well aware of his merits and often singled him out for responsibilities that would normally have been given to someone of a higher rank. He says he always obliged, embracing the extra responsibilities without complaint.

For example, just a few months after that day in Mongonu, he was selected to be part of the patrol team that escorted some of the military's newly acquired equipment from Abuja and Bauchi.

At the airport, Jefferson posed beside some of the shining new guns and missiles, his 165cm frame neatly tucked into a brown and green camouflage uniform the same colour and design as the aeroplanes in the background. Throughout the journey to Maiduguri, he relished the thought that a new phase was beginning in the war against Boko Haram. He dreamed of finishing the battle soon and returning to his new wife, who had grown anxious since his transfer to Borno.

But the battle against Boko Haram was far from over. Jefferson observed that, even after weeks of training by the defence attaches of the countries that had supplied the new weapons, many Nigerian soldiers were unable to operate the hi-tech ammunition.

With amusement in his voice, he describes how their attempts to handle the hi-tech guns resembled somebody trying to master a Rubik's Cube.

But his amusement is tinged with anger.

"Further training then fell on commanders like me," he says, "training men who were impervious to learning."

It grew difficult for Jefferson to contain his ire each time he saw a soldier at a checkpoint chomping on mangoes or chatting on his mobile phone as his gun lay on the floor beside him.

And such indiscipline wasn't just evident among the junior ranks. Once, a brigadier-general mocked Jefferson for always being in full kit, teasing him about dressing "like an American soldier".

"I soon got tired of being the odd man out," he explains. "The commander who insists that soldiers must wear their fragment jackets, their caps - being accused of being too fussy."

So Jefferson resigned from the army in mid-2014. He now works for the security department of an international organisation in Abuja. A number of his colleagues who also left the army have similarly well-paid jobs as, with the rising threat posed by Boko Haram, international organisations in Nigeria now consider it imperative to have security departments staffed with counterinsurgency experts.

"The insurgency has created jobs for us," Jefferson says.

But despite the relative comfort of his new life, Jefferson still looks back at his almost 28 years in the army with nostalgia. The near tragedy of the day when he came face to face with Boko Haram is something he now considers just another day in the life of a soldier devoted to serving his country.

To read the original article please visit:

Source: Al Jazeera
Meet the Nigerian woman taking on Boko Haram
By: Caelainn Hogan 04 Nov 2015 War and Conflict

Hafsat Mohammed uses hope to counter hate, but the activist knows the threats she faces are all too real.

Hafsat Mohammed works to counter violent extremism by engaging young people at the grassroots level [Caelainn Hogan/Al Jazeera]On a long, barren road in northeastern Nigeria, Hafsat Mohammed, squeezed into a public minibus, saw the gunmen materialise from the bush like a mirage.
The 33-year-old was on her way to Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State and the epicentre of the Boko Haram insurgency, when two Hilux pickups swerved onto the road ahead.
The minibus stopped. Men in combat fatigues and balaclavas emerged from the first pickup and aimed their guns at the windshield. They ordered the passengers out onto the hot tarmac. The second pickup sped off towards a nearby village.
The men beat the passengers with their guns, jeering and calling them names as they did so.
A former radio journalist-turned-civil society activist, Mohammed wasn't usually afraid to speak up; she thought she might shout or scream, but, instead, she found herself mute.

"I was praying in my mind," she recalls. "I did not dare pray out loud."
Then they opened fire.
Mohammed remembers how the dead body of a woman fell on top of her and how she lay there, beneath it.
She heard the screams of two women as they were forced into the pickup. Then the gunmen were gone, leaving tyre marks behind in the dirt.
They had killed five passengers, but Mohammed was unharmed. She and the other survivors, including the driver, got back into the minibus and drove off.
I first met Mohammed in January 2014, just weeks after the attack. She was back at her office in a nondescript high-rise in Kaduna city, the old political capital of the north, gearing up for initiatives to tackle religious intolerance in Nigerian schools.
For the past year, she had been working at the grassroots, community-led Interfaith Mediation Centre, founded by a Muslim imam and a Christian pastor to address interreligious violence.
In sentences often punctuated by a loud, raucous laugh, Mohammed spoke about her work and the attack.
"It motivated me to go back to the northeast," she said. "It was something that kept on bothering me: 'What do you do to conquer this [violence]'?"
Her answer to that question has been to try to counter violent extremism by engaging young people at the grassroots level, getting them to imagine a different future and their individual ambitions for it.
"I was in that bus and I saw hell," the mother of two reflected. "But it motivates me to work for peace."
Lifting our voice above theirs
When we meet again, at a bustling salon in the Nigerian capital of Abuja in September 2015, Mohammed is sitting quietly getting her hair woven into braids. When they are done, she pulls the slinky hood of a lilac abaya over the neat, steamed rows and scrolls through Facebook updates on her phone.
There has been a bombing in Yola, where people fleeing attacks in Borno are living in IDP camps. "Why would they do this?" she questions out loud.
"We have to make sure that our voice is lifted in such a way that we counter those violent messages and ideologies, our voice is heard above theirs," she later says.
The following day, she posts a video on Facebook, taken on her phone, her face obscured by a dark niqab, speaking through tears about the bombing in the camp.
"I have something that's really bothering me today and I want to talk about it," she opens. "How the Boko Haram insurgents went into an IDP camp in Yola, in the northeastern part of Nigeria, and detonated a bomb, in a camp for crying out loud!"
She cannot comprehend what would make somebody commit such violence against people who have already lost everything other than their lives.
While at a salon in September in the Nigerian capital of Abuja, Mohammed is horrified to learn of a bombing in a Yola IDP camp [Caelainn Hogan/Al Jazeera]

Escalating conflict

In April 2014, when more than 200 girls from the town of Chibok in Borno State were kidnapped by Boko Haram, the world seemingly woke up to what had been erupting around Mohammed since 2009. It is a conflict that has until now claimed more than 15,000 lives and displaced millions.

She has watched as her home state has become the hotbed of a war waged by a group invoking Mohammed's own Muslim faith.

Across the northeast, education facilities have been repeatedly targeted and, early last year, officials in Borno decided to close around 85 schools, affecting nearly 120,000 students.

Mohammed wanted her children to grow up in Borno, but an attack on a school near the one attended by her children was the final blow: she no longer felt that it was safe for her children to be there.

So, in early 2014, she relocated her father and two young children to Kaduna, a city that has experienced only rare attacks.

But Mohammed didn't go with them. Instead, she headed further into the epicentre of the crisis in the northeast - to Yobe State

"I thought, what if every individual said, 'Let's counter this message by preaching good'? … I felt obligated to do something," she says, explaining why she would choose to put herself in harm's way.

Photographs of alleged fighters killed by the Nigerian army during an attack on a boarding school in Yobe disturbed her: they were just young men, she observed. "It became a problem for me, knowing I have a brother, I have teenage cousins, I have a son," she explains.

She wanted to make other young men less vulnerable to the lure of such groups. "What can we do to prevent it, to show that this is not the way?" she asks.

Women's role in countering extremist narratives

The kidnapping of the Chibok girls, the ensuing Bring Back Our Girls campaign and the rise in the use of young girls as suicide bombers has made the conflict in Nigeria a key example of the dynamic and complicated role of women within crises fuelled by violent extremism - as targets, as propagators and also as leaders in countering the threats within their communities.

This September, the UN Security Council Counter-Terrorism Committee held an unprecedented meeting on the role of women in countering violent extremism - often seen as a male dominated domain - with female experts from Iraq, Kenya, and Nigeria speaking about the issue.

Pastor Esther Ibanga, an activist for interfaith peace in Plateau State, in Nigeria's Middle Belt region, believes women play a crucial role in security issues.

Although in Nigeria their involvement is seen as "taboo and sometimes quite offensive to the men," Ibanga says "women civil society groups tap into the needs of communities, where women and children are disproportionately impacted by terrorism."

Many activists share Mohammed's belief that the best defence against divisive ideologies is providing a counter message and encouraging people to speak out.

One such activist is Aisha Yusuf, a campaigner with Bring Back Our Girls. "Poverty in this country makes you nameless, faceless and voiceless," she says. Yet, "we [citizens] have a duty to speak up against anything that's wrong".

But, in some places, people are too fearful to even speak of Boko Haram, she says.

"The question we ask is what narrative are we putting out there to counter what Boko Haram is saying? What are we telling the people?" she asks.

"It's for us to give a different narrative. If Boko Haram is saying Western education is forbidden, why are they on Youtube? … Why are they driving cars and using assault rifles? Why are they not using horses and donkeys or their own legs? These are people saying education is forbidden but they're using education."

While there is no shortage of female activists in Nigeria pushing for change and fighting injustice, Mohammed admits that it's not always easy to be an outspoken woman.

She says most young men are receptive to her work, but some older men have responded differently.

"Some felt I was being disrespectful, that I wasn't being a lady, that I should be at home, married, having babies like a baby factory, but that wasn't what I was created for," she says.

"I am confident, I am strong, I am a Muslim, I am an anti-violent-extremism activist, I advocate against it and I will do whatever I can to stop it. A lot of time I talk in front of people and they say, 'You're a woman, you don't need to talk.' And I say, 'Yes, I will talk.' "

Aisha Yusuf, a Bring Back Our Girls campaigner, speaks at a daily vigil held at the Unity Fountain in Abuja since the kidnapping of the Chibok girls [Caelainn Hogan/Al Jazeera]

Segregated schools

It was Mohammed's father, a former air force man, who instilled in his daughter the gritty confidence she has today. He always told his children they could achieve anything they set their minds to. "He never treated me differently as a girl," she reflects.

And it was in her former career as a journalist in Kano, the largest city in northern Nigeria, that the roots of her activism were formed. She would visit different communities and meet people facing violence and poverty.

Then, in 2007, she turned to civil society work, consulting for internationally funded development projects.

But she wanted to do more hands-on work to make a sustainable difference on the ground, and so she joined the Interfaith Mediation Centre in December 2012.

In her outreach work for Interfaith in Kaduna, a city divided between north and south, Muslim and Christian, Mohammed saw how religious intolerance could plant the seeds of extremism and hate.

She and a Christian colleague, Samson Atua, visited schools and witnessed classrooms becoming unofficially segregated by religion as communities grew ever more divided. They drew on their own experiences to show teachers and students that the religious divisions in their minds were fabricated.

"If the student is Muslim they're taught, 'Oh [the teacher] is a Christian, don't relate with her,' or if he's a Christian, 'Your teacher is a Muslim, don't go close to her,' " she says.

"There has been resistance from the Christian teachers and the Muslim teachers, and we had to give references from the Quran and the Bible," she elaborates. "I can sing choir songs and Christmas carols, and the kids say 'I dare you,' and I do. The kids and pastors are surprised, with the hijab and all."

When growing up in Kaduna, says Atua, "You never knew who was a Christian, [and] who was a Muslim." But now, he says, "hate is the issue of the day".

Together they made an effective team: the forthright Mohammed, often dressed in a purple-grey abaya, her head covering framing her round, smiling face, and her diamante nose stud catching the light, alongside Atua, an easygoing, soft-spoken young man in a bright blue t-shirt and jeans.

She saw playground games where children called out to each other: "I'm a Christian, you're a Muslim," and mimicked guns with their fingers: "Ta-ta-ta-ta, you're dead!"

On one research visit, she asked students to draw their homes. She remembers how one five-year-old drew a picture of trees, smiling people, animals, and sweets on one side of his piece of cardboard. He covered the other side entirely in black crayon. "When I asked him why, he said, 'This end [the black side] is full of Christians, the other is Muslims,' " Mohammed says.

Mohammed waited until school had finished for the day to meet the boy's mother, who was shocked. When asked how he got such ideas, the boy said his religious teacher had taught him that "Christians are no good".

Mohammed's own family has not been immune to this atmosphere of religious disunity. As a single mother working in Kaduna, her children live most of the time with her father in Maiduguri.

"I had to be the workaholic, up and down," she says. "My dad was helping me."

Once in Maiduguri, as she was walking past a church with her son, Mohammed told the boy to go and say hello to the pastor.

"Please don't make me," her son responded, tugging at her arm to keep walking. "Only Christians can go into the church."

She made him go and greet the man, who then gave him some sweets.

That church has since been destroyed by Boko Haram, she says.

We need the correct answers, she says, to discredit "those ideologies, those messages that your children hear on the radio, hear from friends".

"Every mother's dream is to have a child who is successful," she continues. If her own son became a fighter, she says, it would be "heartbreaking … [it would] kill me".

The names of Nigeria's states, including Yobe, are represented on the Unity Fountain, a landmark in the federal capital of Abuja [Caelainn Hogan/Al Jazeera]

Yobe State

In December 2014, Mohammed moved to Damaturu, the capital city of Yobe State, and the alleged birthplace of Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau. For the past year, there have been regular attacks by suicide bombers in the city.

The primarily Muslim state was carved out of Borno in 1991, and was one of the northeastern states on which former President Goodluck Jonathan imposed a state of emergency in 2013, due to the escalating Boko Haram insurgency.

She joined a regional development initiative as a project manager for Yobe and became responsible for identifying and supporting campaigns and projects countering violent extremism, particularly among young people - or "our nation," as she calls them.

In Damaturu, an emerging urban centre, daily life continues, despite the regular threat of suicide bombings, as it does across northeastern Nigeria.

"People just continue their business after a bomb explodes," she says. "If it's a really bad attack, they'll put [a] curfew just for a day."

Positive messages and dialogue, she believes, can act as a buffer against the anger and frustration she worries could lead many youth to pick up guns themselves. In the rousing wake of Muhammadu Buhari's landslide election victory in April, Mohammed helped organise a symposium for around 200 young men and women from across the northeast, to discuss everything from leadership to jobs.

We were working on "getting youth on their toes," she says.

Unlike in Kaduna, where she was on the ground mediating and implementing programmes, in Yobe, Mohammed took a different approach - catalysing local leaders and grassroots civil society organisations to make change within their own communities.

Working with imams

In Yobe, Mohammed worked with interfaith initiatives and women's groups. One of the most important aspects of this work, she explains, was gaining the trust of local imams who speak out against extremism and violence during Friday prayers and often counsel young people.

A UN event this year highlighted the importance of delinking extremism from religion in countering violent extremism, and Mohammed sees religious leaders playing a key role in that.

"They are change agents," she reflects.

"There is a lot of frustration everywhere that makes people join [Boko Haram] because they don't even have the money to buy food or go to the hospital."

"[There is] poverty, unemployment and frustration that they're not getting from [the] government what they're supposed to be getting," she continues.

When people struggle to see a future for themselves and to form ambitions, Mohammed believes trouble follows.

She wants to empower youth to take control of their lives, to know that they have the right to speak up as citizens and to ask more of their local government; she wants them to see that staying silent or picking up a gun are not the only options available to them.

Just reminding the youth to talk about their future can help, she says, explaining that this is a lesson she has passed on to some of the young people she has worked with.

"They don't talk about terrorism, about war; they talk about positive stuff, about education, about being who they want to be. They talk about in the future having a family - that's a great ambition."

Mohammed speaks to nearly 200 youth in Yobe at a grassroots symposium this summer to counter violent extremism and discuss ambitions, leadership and needs of young people in the northeast [Courtesy Hafsat Mohammed]

Damaturu's youth

In Damaturu, she spoke to as many young people as she could. Some came to her house, others she'd find in groups at a park or on street corners where mobile recharge cards are sold under colourful umbrellas or at roadside tea and bread stalls.

She spoke to carpenters, bricklayers, and painters.

"They would tell me their ambitions," she says. "They never got the chance to go to school, but they had ambitions, they had dreams."

Many were scared to go to school, even if it were possible; they were afraid that Boko Haram would come to kill them.

"If we go to school, what will happen?" a 10-year-old boy asked her. She told him he would be safe and that the security forces would watch over him. He reminded her that security forces had been present when other students had been killed.

One day, in a market in Damaturu, Mohammed was drawn to a gathering of young male tailors. They were arguing about why the media called the Boko Haram fighters Islamic extremists.

"It's not religion," said one man, angered by those who claim Boko Haram is an Islamic movement. "It's not Islam."

They were hurt that their religion was being linked to something they felt was so far removed from their beliefs. "Why don't they say 'Christian terrorist'?" asked one, referring to the Charleston church shooting in the US.

"I'm like, for real? In the market?" Mohammed laughs. "These guys have a point."

Mohammed, who rejects the idea that extremism or hateful ideology is particular to any religion, explained to them that because Boko Haram claims to be Islamic, that's how people see them.

"Well, they [the media] should have more common sense," one man responded. "It really gets on my nerves." She encouraged him to get his message out there.

Most of the young people she meets believe the boys who have joined the fighters are being used.

But Mohammed worries that young men, constantly being painted as potential terrorists, could be marginalised to the point that they end up fitting that image.

"We get them to say, 'Okay, I'll just be it,' " she says. "Things like this can trigger their frustration and make them hate people."

She says that many of the young men she has met have been approached about taking up arms, but that they were in no way eager to do so.

"They're frustrated with the whole issue. They want to go to school, they want to go farming, but now they can't because they're afraid to move around."

Helping women

In June, Mohammed registered her own NGO called Choice for Peace, Gender and Development, to help young people and women whose family members have been taken, whether abducted or recruited, or killed.

"I feel the pain of other mothers," she says. "They feel helpless to prevent it."

In Yobe she tried to encourage women-led initiatives and also to set up psychosocial support for women who were dealing with trauma.

The use of young girls, some as young as 10, as suicide bombers has devastated communities.

"Girls are heartbroken that [Boko Haram fighters] are using girls as suicide bombers, that's something they never expected," she says.

The young women at the symposium she organised could barely talk about it; instead they just cried.

Each attack leaves her feeling more horrified that anyone could do such a thing. "Even today, it just baffles me," she says.

In June, Mohammed registered her own NGO to help young people and women whose family members have been taken, whether abducted, recruited, or killed [Caelainn Hogan/Al Jazeera]


But these days, Mohammed doesn't feel she's in a position to help anyone.

The calls began in August: Three different voices, all male. They told her the same thing: When the time is right, we will find you and we will kill you. They said they knew where her family was, that if she continued her work they would harm her daughter.

"Ever since this recent [threat] … every day I sit alone, I get feverish, I get sick," she says. "I get really confused at times, I'm really scared. I know I'm safe but the thought, it keeps coming."

In these moments, and in the strained silences when she does not want to speak or to remember, it is sometimes hard to recognise the resolute and unshakeable young woman who sat at her desk just weeks after the attack on the road.

Now, in the early evenings, she is driven home from meetings in Abuja, the lights of the minarets of the capital's grand mosque glowing in the approaching dusk.

She arrives at the gated, guarded housing complex where she lives, and spends most evenings curled up on the sofa. She fries eggs and watches television. Mostly stuck inside, Facebook has become an outlet for her.

But when she thinks of the men in the pickup trucks, or of her father's house in Borno, now filled with displaced relatives, her whole body stiffens. Instinctively, she wraps her arms around herself.

"[Last year], I was fearless; I would go back to Yobe and stay there, I wouldn't leave and no one could convince me to leave," she says. "But I've been holding on strong for a long time and I'm breaking down."

Her hands clasped on her lap, she says: "Now the trauma is in my head."

The events of the last few years - the attack on the road; the teenage son of a cousin who disappeared only for a note to turn up at his home saying that he refused to join the fighters so they killed him; the friend from Gwoza who returned home after the army had reclaimed the area from Boko Haram, and found a ghost town and people's bones - have all taken their toll.

"After these phone calls, these threats, all that came back," she admits quietly.

"I want changes in this country," she says. But alone in a room that is not hers, separated from her family for fear of putting them in danger, she acknowledges that, right now, she needs to look after herself first. "It's time to keep my life."

You can follow Caelainn on Twitter at @CaelainnH.
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Source: Al Jazeera
Somalia: Al-Shabab attack kills 15 in Mogadishu hotel

The BBC's Tomi Oladipo :
Image by EPA

''Residents of Mogadishu say that they heard a loud bang at dawn..followed by gunfire''Al-Shabab Islamist militants have attacked a hotel in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, killing at least 15 people.

Gunmen used two car bombs to blast their way into the Sahafi hotel compound before storming the building, police said.

Victims included at least one MP and the general who led the 2011 offensive that drove al-Shabab out of Mogadishu.

African Union troops and government forces say they have regained control of the hotel after a fierce gun battle.

The hotel is popular with Somalia's members of parliament.
A website associated with al-Shabab said it was responsible for the attack, which it said was carried out early in the morning to avoid civilian casualties.
This is a clear change in strategy, says BBC World Service Africa editor Mary Harper. Until now, attacks in Mogadishu have been carried out during the day and evening, killing civilians who happen to be in the targeted area.

The owner of the hotel and Gen Abdikarim Dhagabadan, who commanded the operation against al-Shabab in 2011, were among the victims.
The attack comes a day after deadly clashes between jihadist fighters and African Union (AU) troops in the Bakool region near the border with Ethiopia.
The AU is helping the government battle al-Shabab.
Security in Somalia has improved, but the al-Qaeda linked group still attacks Mogadishu regularly.
The militants have also targeted neighbouring countries, killing almost 150 people in an assault on Garissa University College in Kenya in April. Above, a vehicle burns after a car bomb exploded in front of the Sahafi Hotel in Mogadishu.
Gunmen used a vehicle packed with explosives to blast their way into the hotel.
The al-Shabab militant group has carried out regular attacks in Somalia

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How to defeat Boko Haram suicide Bombers.
By TGS Counter Terrorism Expert David Otto

31st October 2015 10:15pm

According to the Global Terrorist Tactics Statistics[1], suicide bombing as of August 2015 has been used almost every 1.29 days, killing 1,294 and has injured 2,386. The success of the current military strategy in Northern Nigeria and Northern Cameroon, against Boko Haram/ ISWAP is seriously being undermined by the group's operational tactics of employing suicide bombings with Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) almost every 48 hours. I specifically mentioned Nigeria and Cameroon and left out Niger and Chad not out of disrespect but simply because over the past 30 days, as of 1st October 2015, the Country Threat Index of most dangerous countries in the world puts Nigeria and Cameroon on 5th and 10th position respectively alongside Syria, Iraq , Afghanistan and Libya… [2]My efforts to excuse Chad and Niger Republic should not be misconstrued as a low threat indicator because recent suicide bombings with the use of IEDs in these two states indicates seriousness of suicide bombing in the region in general.
The use of suicide bombing has a long history from 20th Century Russia, Japan and Sri Lanka by the now defeated Tamil Tigers.In recent times, this tactic has been used as a unique type of human weapon by terrorist groups like Hamas, the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party or PKK, Al-Qaida and ISIL as a last resort and a desperate measure to inflict maximum casualty on their adversary particularly where every other strategy including coordinated assault and Guerrilla Warfare has not worked towards achieving their prescribed goals and objectives. Some groups like Hamas have used suicide bombing to penetrate well protected areas that are vulnerable to human access due to perimeter fencing defences against Vehicular Bound Improvised Explosive Devices (VBIEDs).
For any group to succeed in using this method, they need volunteers, a society to shade them, materials for making IEDs, experts to train potential candidates, and experts to make body worn or other related IEDs.
Most recently and particularly for the past six months, suicide bombing has become a common tool by Boko Haram especially immediately after the military base was transferred from Abuja to Maiduguri by President Buhari on his inauguration speech of May 29th 2015[3]. His promise of military first and other soft approach later may have triggered fear within the leadership structure of Boko Haram that a change of tactics was necessary.
From all evidence, Boko Haram selected perpetrators are usually vulnerable boys and girls some as young as 10 years old. Their targets are often unsuspecting civilians and military personnel. There has been a recent increase in attacks around places of worship and markets locations. It is important to note that elderly men and women have also been used as suicide bombers in many occasions making it difficult for experts to build a concrete profile of a typical suspect. Equally, crowded places irrespective of whether it is a place of worship or market location has been targeted by suicide bombers bent on causing maximum casualty against their target audience.
The significant use of vulnerable girls and women, including the elderly as suicide bombers is very concerning. On the one hand, it indicates that the military is inflicting some serious punches on Boko Haram as promised by Buhari on his inauguration speech. On the other hand it shows that Boko Haram is desperate and losing man power which is also thanks to the recent military strategy. To militate against this military success, Boko Haram has now specialised in using the most vulnerable individuals as suicide bombers.
The fact is that suicide bombing is an expensive strategy because it affects the man power of the group that uses it and there is a natural difficulty of getting volunteers to take the cause either voluntarily or by coercion. Boko Haram seems comfortable getting willing volunteers for this tactics and that itself is a huge worry for everyone looking at the end game of the sect’s activities.

What counter measures can be used?

Measures to counter suicide bombing and bombers are complex because the perpetrators are faceless and mostly unsuspecting individuals. These perpetrators can easily blend into the local community and they wear no uniforms to indicate their intent. In the Republic of Chad and Cameroon measures like dressing down or even banning full face veils has been implemented[4]. Recent spiral in attacks using suicide bombers in Chad and Cameroon indicates that this measure has done little to deter perpetrators.
Community based awareness programmes should be flooded into affected and vulnerable regions via varied methods using experts to create public awareness. Since trust in an issue, affected states must rebuild and strengthen their intelligence based trust with the communities that provide space for suicide bombers to infiltrate and blend. There is an urgent need for the Nigerian government and other regional states to implement a regional counter IED material acquisition strategy, working in collaboration with public and private businesses dealing with these materials or logistics of same. This will ensure that materials used to make IEDs and VBIEDs which is readily available in the open market for genuine reasons, are comprehensively policed using existing methods that have yielded success elsewhere.

The problem of not having a good and reliable database system in most of these states affected by Boko Haram activities will have a major effect in achieving a milestone of success but it is high time for our leaders to ensure that we have a regional database in Africa. It will take time but the framework must be started now if not already. Without community awareness, policing these materials through a regional database, the use of suicide bombing and IEDs will continue to flourish and cause more havoc to innocent citizens. To win any battle or war, the national intelligence estimate of all possibilities must be right from the onset. That is what determines the order of battle or defeat timetable.
Note: The author reminds readers that mitigating efforts against suicide bombers and IEDs or VBIEDs is only one strategy against many in defeating a terrorist group like Boko Haram or any other terrorist group. Other counter measures must work in complement to achieve different goals.

David Otto
TGS Counter Terrorism and Organised Crime Expert.

[1] Global Terrorist Tactic Stats as of 11 August 2015 at Http://
[2] 10 Most Dangerous Countries; Country Threat Index (CTI) Http://
[4] Chad Bans face veils , also see Cameroon
U.S arms Turkey's Enemies:
30th October 2015
By: David Otto
TGS Director of Counter Terrorism

Exactly one month after Russia carried out its first air strikes in Syria against all 'terrorist' groups on ground, the U.S today makes a U-turn against its promise to the world and Americans by sending about 50 Special Forces on ground to Syria with no return ticket. This reminds me of the 300 sent to Cameroon to combat Boko Haram with no return ticket too. Their mission, as always, is to 'advise, train and assist' moderates, some of whom, their current ally Turkey consider as too close to PKK, a threat to their national security and a designated terrorist organisation. I am sure these Special Forces will be making sure weapons from U.S do not end up in the hands of ISIL like most have in recent times.
This remarkable change of strategy by the U.S comes days after Tony Blair literally washed his hands and apologised on CNN against the policy of regime change that has devastated Iraq and Libya and as a consequence we have ISIL today. As expected, Tony Blair blamed intelligence and perhaps the U.S or George Bush will, if given the opportunity, blame the super forecasters for the same.
When I listened to the Vienna conference, the words and body language of John Kerry and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov signalled the end of the beginning of peace in Syria and the Middle East in general. I am not a body language expert but I am open to any challenge to the contrary. The president of Syria, Bashar al-Assad is the most important part of the winning or losing the war against ISIL puzzle if history is any good. The bad news is that after long deliberations, both the U.S and Russia agree to disagree on the involvement of Assad in peace building or fighting the common enemy which is ISIL perhaps.
After today's conference in Vienna, there are so many unanswered questions that have popped up requiring deep and careful thoughts. To make it worse, new and complex ones have emerged. Let us retire from the Vienna conference ready to answer these questions some of which may appear or be better left as rhetoric’s.

Was Vienna another talking workshop for all parties involved including Iran while civilians continue to die in Syria and Iraq? Does the U.S and Russia have old scores to settle and Syria is the opportunity presented on a platter of blood? Is this new strategy of sending '50' special troops on ground have anything to do with Russia's recent position as the 'peace maker' in Syria or a new US strategy of boots on all grounds? Will the UK and David Cameroon follow Obama directly or indirectly as Tony Blair did in 2003 or will the UK jump ship or not board at all? What happens to Turkey's relation with the U.S? Will Turkey change lanes if the U.S insists on arming Kurdish fighters linked with PKK?
If we can answer these questions with comfort or discomfort, we shall have a good idea of whether Syria will be another success or failure story tomorrow. And by to tomorrow I refer to the old man saying to his son ' if you study hard you will be our leader tomorrow'.

David Otto.
Isis: who are they and can they be stopped? Oct 23, 2015

First American killed in action by enemy fire while fighting Islamic State to free prisoners.

Image courtesy of AFP
A US soldier has died during an operation to free prisoners held by Islamic State militants, the first American killed in action by enemy fire while fighting IS.
Islamic State, Daesh or Isis: the dilemma of naming the militants
US considers putting boots on the ground in Syria Kurdish fighters and US commandos freed about 70 prisoners held near the northern town of Hawija. Kurdish officials believed the prisoners were about to be massacred.

"The raid was the first time American soldiers had been confirmed to be directly accompanying local forces in Iraq onto the battlefield against the Islamic State since President Obama sent troops back to the country last year," says the New York Times.

"Until now, the American contingent, which numbers around 3,500, had been limited to training and advising the Iraqi and Kurdish forces on military bases and training areas."

The Pentagon press secretary, Peter Cook, said it had been a "unique" request from the Kurdish Regional Government and was unlikely to happen on a regular basis. However, it comes as the US-led coalition has been trying to regain the initiative in the fight against Islamic State, following Russia's military intervention. Iraq and the coalition have been stepping up the pressure on IS strongholds.

Analysts have recorded a 42 per cent increase in the average daily number of attacks carried out by IS in July to September compared with the previous three months. So who are the IS militants and how can they be stopped?

What's the difference between Isis and the Islamic State?

Isis, or the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, was regarded by the west as a terrorist organisation even before it began its murderous rampage across the Middle East. Initially called Al-Qaeda in Iraq, it became Isis or Isil in 2013, and then Islamic State after it claimed to have established a caliphate at the end of last summer.

It has played a prominent role in Syria's civil war with the chaos enabling it to develop a reputation as one of the most extreme groups operating in the region, reports the New York Times.

However, its insistence on strict Sharia law and its focus on establishing a state rather than toppling President Bashar al-Assad have alienated the group from the larger rebel movement.

Reports from cities where Isis has taken control are bleak, with public executions, beheadings, kidnap, amputations, torture and beatings among tactics used to maintain control. Isis has long targeted journalists and activists, and has been known to use suicide attacks and land mines against its opposition.

A group or a geographical state?

After the fall of Mosul last summer, some terrorism experts suggested that the militant group's claim to statehood was no idle boast. The Washington Post said Islamic State "effectively governs a nation-size tract of territory that stretches from the eastern edge of the Syrian city of Aleppo to Fallujah in western Iraq – and now also includes the northern Iraqi city of Mosul". Although the borders of the territory it controls has ebbed and flowed since then, its power has not been substantially diminished. The group views itself as its own state with administrative buildings, courts, street signs and even its own newspaper. Douglas Ollivant, of the New America Foundation, who advised the Obama and Bush administrations on Iraq, says it has "all the trappings of a state, just not an internationally recognised one".

What does Islamic State want?

Having established a caliphate, Islamic State now believes that it is the duty of all Muslims to emigrate to it and renounce their citizenship of any other nation. It regards any form of government other than its own as anathema to Islam. According to Graeme Wood, Islamic State's leaders believe they are on course for an apocalyptic battle with their enemies, from which they will emerge victorious. They foretell, he writes in The Atlantic, "that the armies of Rome [usually interpreted as any Christian or non-Islamic force] will mass to meet the armies of Islam in northern Syria; and that Islam’s final showdown with an anti-Messiah will occur in Jerusalem after a period of renewed Islamic conquest." As such, Islamic State supporters actively welcome the prospect of western intervention, which they believe will hasten their own final victory.

Is it genuinely Islamic?

Islamic State claims to be the sole representative of true followers of Islam and has executed large numbers of Muslims whose understanding of the Koran differs from their own narrow interpretation. Barack Obama and David Cameron have both described the group as "unislamic" and surveys have found very little support for the group among western Muslims. But Wood argues that the religious foundation of the group should not be overlooked. "The reality is that the Islamic State is Islamic," he writes. "Very Islamic. ... Muslims can reject the Islamic State; nearly all do. But pretending that it isn't actually a religious, millenarian group, with theology that must be understood to be combatted, has already led the United States to underestimate it and back foolish schemes to counter it."

Is Islamic State part of al-Qaeda?

Isis began as an al-Qaeda offshoot but was officially rejected by the group last year. Al-Qaeda has reportedly complained that Isis is too brutal and that its focus on establishing a caliphate has distracted from the push in Syria to topple President Assad. The rejection means al-Qaeda's representation in Iraq is now limited, while Islamic State poses a significant challenge to Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi's control over the country.

Who leads Islamic State?

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, head of Islamic State, is now deemed one of the most powerful jihadi leaders in the world. He took over as leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq in 2010 after its former leaders were killed in an attack by US and Iraqi troops, reports The Independent. Following the fate of his predecessors, he reportedly insists on extreme secrecy, sometimes wearing a mask as disguise. Baghdadi, also known as Abu Dua, is believed to be in his early 40s, with degrees in Islamic Studies, including poetry, history and genealogy. Born in Samarra, a largely Sunni city north of Baghdad, he was later held prisoner by the Americans in Bocca Camp in southern Iraq between 2005 and 2009.

Several sources in the Middle East claim that Baghdadi was seriously wounded in an airstrike and that his second-in-command Abu Alaa Afri took over as temporary leader. However, the Pentagon continues to deny that Baghdadi is injured.

The group's leadership is almost exclusively made up of Iraqis, but it has gained thousands of volunteers from across the Middle East and the West. US intelligence officials have previously said there are around 31,000 Isis militants, with two thirds comprising foreign fighters. Kurdish leaders claim the total figure is much higher at around 200,000.

How is Islamic State funded?

The group made money through oil smuggling in Syria, racketeering and kidnappings, as well as donations from private jihadi networks in the Gulf, says the Financial Times. The militants have seized oilfields in Syria's Deir Ezzor province, made alliances with tribes to extract oil and were believed to be extorting taxes of up to $8m a month from businesses in Mosul before its takeover. After it seized Mosul last year, the group looted hundreds of millions of dollars from the city's banks, making it the richest terrorist group in the world. The FT says the group has issued annual reports since 2012 detailing its numerical "successes", including bombings, assassinations and new recruits, with the apparent aim of demonstrating its record to potential donors. The group claimed nearly 10,000 operations in Iraq in 2013 alone, with 1,000 assassinations and 4,000 improvised explosive devices planted.

Why militants are defecting from Islamic State

22 September 2015

A growing number of Islamic State militants are defecting from the terrorist group and speaking out about their decision to leave, a new report has revealed.

Researchers at King's College London say at least 58 men and women have turned against Islamic State, with the pace of defections steadily increasing. Almost sixty per cent of cases were reported in the first eight months of this year, of which nearly a third were in the last three months.

Many of the disillusioned fighters say they left because of the group's brutality and corruption, as well as its killing of fellow Muslims. Others say foreign fighters were "exploited" and used as cannon fodder, while some were disappointed that the luxuries they were promised never materialised.

One Syrian teenager, who was just 14 when he was recruited by IS, said he was told that Shia militants would rape his mother if he did not fight. "They planted the idea in me that Shias are infidels and we had to kill them," he told the New York Times.

Another said he left the group after being told to take part in executions in exchange for 13 Yazidi girls. "These scenes terrified me," the 33-year old Iraqi told The Independent. "I imagined myself being caught up in these shootings, executions, beheadings and raping, if I stayed where I was."

Researchers say such stories provide unique insights into life under IS and could be key to stopping the flow of foreign fighters, countering the group's propaganda, and exposing its lies and hypocrisy.

The report recommends that governments and activists recognise the value and credibility of these testimonies and removes the legal disincentives that prevent them from going public.

"These stories matter," said Peter Neumann, the head of the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR). "The defectors' very existence shatters the image of unity and determination that the group seeks to convey."

"Not every defector is a saint, and not all of them are ready or willing to stand in the public spotlight. But their voices are strong and clear: 'The Islamic State is not protecting Muslims. It is killing them'."

After the Tunisia massacre, can Islamic State be stopped?

2 July 2015

The massacre in Tunisia, said to be the worst terrorist attack on Britons since the 7 July bombings in 2005, has rekindled the debate of how Islamic State can be stopped and whether the UK should launch air strikes against the group in Syria.

Seifeddine Rezgui, a gunman with links to Islamic State, killed a total of 38 people on a beach resort near Sousse on Friday, with 30 of the victims expected to be confirmed as British.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Cameron said that "unshakeable resolve" and a "full-spectrum response" was needed to tackle Islamist extremism.

Police and security services must be given the tools to tackle online propaganda and terrorism must be dealt with "at its source" in places such as Syria, Iraq and Libya by supporting governments to tackle political instability, said the Prime Minister.

British aircraft are involved in airstrikes over Iraq, airborne intelligence assets are assisting other countries over Syria and the UK is working with the UN, EU and US to support the formation of a Government of National Accord in Libya, he said.

But, Cameron added, "perhaps the most important thing", is confronting the "poisonous ideology" of extremism and standing up for the values of peace, democracy, tolerance and freedom.

Matthew d'Ancona in The Guardian describes this as the first "real test" of Cameron's convictions, "undiluted" by his former Liberal Democrat Coalition partners.

He points out that Rezgui's busy use of Facebook has again raised the fate of the draft communications data bill, or "snooper's charter" as its critics describe it.

"Thwarted by Nick Clegg, Cameron vowed to bring the proposals back if he won a majority," says d'Ancona. "The question now is whether he can persuade the liberty-loving 'Runnymede Tories', notably David Davis, that compulsory bulk data collection and retention is justified by the jihadis' nimble use of technology."

Meanwhile, Colonel Richard Kemp, the former commander of UK forces in Afghanistan, has told the Daily Express that SAS troops should be moved to Syria, Libya and Iraq to fight the jihadists and allied airstrikes should increase ten-fold.

"The gloves must come off. It has to be brutal and harsh," he said. "There will be casualties but politicians will have to accept that."

Joseph Willits, an official with the Council for Arab-British Understanding, told The Independent that airstrikes have the ability to "take out elements of Isis's leadership and dent some of their ambitions" but they will not be effective unless communities are incentivised to reject the militants and see an "alternative and improved" future.

"The battle to eject Isis needs to be taken to the ground, not through boots and tanks," he said, "but by empowering those that currently either like or tolerate Isis."

The Isis advance across northern Iraq last summer – and its subsequent declaration of a calaphate – took the world by surprise, but it was a crisis that had been brewing for several years. Here's how the group now calling itself Islamic State grew out of the chaos and sectarian hatred unleashed at the end of the Iraq war.

Can Isis be stopped?

Experts believe that without intervention Isis will head south toward Iraq's capital city Baghdad. The US and other allies began carrying out airstrikes against Isis targets last year, enabling Kurdish forces on the ground to recapture territory from the militants. US officials claim that more than 10,000 Islamic State militants have been killed in the nine months of the coalition's bombing campaign. Iraqi forces, aided by Shi'ite militia, also took control of the northern city of Tikrit earlier this year.

But the militants' recent capture of Ramadi has been described as a "crushing setback" for opponents. The Times says Isis has developed an "unstoppable suicide bomb tactic" using waves of captured US armoured vehicles packed with explosives to break down layers of defences. US-based security company The Soufan Group said more than 30 such vehicles were used to seize Ramadi. There is "little defence" against a multi-ton car bomb and "none" against several of them operating at the same time, said the group.

Water has also become the latest weapon in Islamic State's arsenal, says The Independent. Militants have closed the gates of a dam in western Iraq, putting the southern provinces at risk of drought and redirecting the flow of the Euphrates River to give them better access to government fighters on the southern bank.

Nevertheless, the Pentagon continues to level bomb factories with airstrikes and has rushed anti-tank missiles to Iraq in the hope of stopping further waves of armoured suicide lorry bombs. Opponents of Islamic State may also be able to exploit one vulnerability. Unlike al-Qaeda, which can disappear into underground cells while remaining a threat, Islamic State depends on holding territory to maintain its claim on legitimacy. If its fighters are pushed back from the land they hold, its status as a caliphate is eroded.

However, former CIA director David Petraeus has warned that the Iran-backed Shi'ite militias helping to fend off Isis could pose a larger threat to stability in Iraq in the longer term. In a region dogged by sectarian tensions, Shi'ite militias were accused of committing atrocities against Sunni civilians while fighting the Sunni extremists earlier this year. "Thus, they have, to a degree, been both part of Iraq's salvation but also the most serious threat to the all-important effort of once again getting the Sunni Arab population in Iraq to feel that it has a stake in the success of Iraq rather than a stake in its failure," Petraeus told the Washington Post.

Will the UK now back airstrikes in Syria?

Nearly two years have passed since MPs vetoed taking military action in Syria. Although the vote in August 2013 was about action against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime, the strength of opposition deterred Cameron from proposing air strikes in the country once Islamic State started to pose a serious threat. In September last year, parliament supported military action against IS in Iraq, but the prime minister did not propose air strikes in Syria and promised that any future proposal to do so would be subject to a separate vote.

But following the Tunisian terror attack, Labour sources have told The Timesthat they would not rule out supporting air strikes in Syria. "The target is Isis and not Assad," one insider told the newspaper. "We would need the government to come forward and tell us what they want to do. We are all aware of the size of the challenge." Downing Street has not ruled out the idea, with Cameron declaring that IS must be "crushed" in Syria as well as Iraq earlier this week.

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October 24, 2015, 09:01 pm
Tony Blair apologizes for Iraq War
By Caitlin Yilek

Getty Images
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair is apologizing for the Iraq War and acknowledging that he could be partly to blame for the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

"There are elements of truth" to accusations that his and former President George W. Bush's decision to invade Iraq to oust Saddam Hussein in 2003 led to the rise of the terror group in the Middle East, Blair said in an interview with Fareed Zakaria on CNN airing Sunday, according to theDaily Mail.ADVERTISEMENT
"I apologize for the fact that the intellgence we received was wrong," Blair said. "I also apologize for some of the mistakes in planning and, certainly, our mistake in our understanding of what would happen once you removed the [Saddam Hussein] regime."

Blair, who resigned as prime minister in 2007, was asked how he felt about being called a "war criminal" by his opponents. He compared the 2003 Iraq situation with the current crisis in Syria, noting how the West and Europe have "stood back" with hundreds of thousands dying.

Blair had previously been less forthcoming about what went wrong in Iraq.

"I don't think we should be apologizing at all for what we are doing in Iraq," he said in 2007. "We should be immensely proud."
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Female bomber kills 3 in northeast Nigeria

Sat Oct 24, 2015 6:46PM
Blood stains inside a mosque where a bomber killed over 20 worshippers in the northeastern Nigerian city of Maiduguri on September 21, 2015. © AFP]Blood stains inside a mosque where a bomber killed over 20 worshippers in the northeastern Nigerian city of Maiduguri on September 21, 2015. © AFP

Three people have been killed and several others wounded after a female bomber blew herself up in Nigeria’s violence-plagued northeastern state of Borno.

The bomb blast occurred in the Dala Yazaram area of Maiduguri City, located approximately 870 kilometers (540 miles) north of the capital, Abuja, on Saturday when a female assailant detonated her explosives, witnesses said.

Another woman was caught right before she could discharge the explosive device, a local resident said.

"Three people have been killed and many injured. One of the terrorists was arrested before she could detonate," said resident Shuaibu Umara, a security guard at a nearby Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) petrol station.

A spokesman for the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), however, said that the blast killed a member of a vigilante group, which assists the military in fighting the militant group, and injured 10 others.

"Four female suicide bombers at about 7:45 am today in the morning attempted to enter a Dala Ajeri area of Maiduguri but were intercepted by the civilian JTF (Joint Task Force)," Sani Datti said in a statement.

"Three of the female suicide bombers detonated the explosions in their bodies immediately and the fourth one was intercepted but later died," he added.

The official noted that six of the injured had been discharged from the hospital.

The incident happened a day after at least 55 people were killed and more than 100 others injured in two terrorist attacks on mosques in Maiduguri and nearby Yola, capital of Adamawa state.

There has been no claim of responsibility for the bomb attacks. Nigerian officials, however, often blame such acts of violence on the Boko Haram Takfiri militant group, which has been carrying out deadly attacks since 2009.

Boko Haram’s bloody militancy has reportedly claimed at least 17,000 lives and displaced 1.5 million people since 2009.

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has given the armed forces until the end of the year to crush the Takfiri movement.

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'Reduced' IRA Army Council Still Exists

The Provisional IRA of the Troubles era is "well beyond recall," according to an independent report ordered by the Government.

A review of Northern Ireland paramilitary activity has said parts of the Provisional IRA still exist in a "much reduced form".

Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers has told parliament that the Government-ordered independent review found that, while the main republican and loyalist terror groups remain, none are planning attacks.

She added that, although all of the main groups had committed murders since the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, their leaders are now committed to peaceful means of achieving their objectives.

The report described the Provisional IRA as being "committed to achieving a united Ireland by political means," adding: "The PIRA of the Troubles era is well beyond recall."

The Provisional IRA was the largest and most active terror group in Northern Ireland in the Troubles and the report blames it for 1,771 murders between 1969 and 1999. Quoting the report, Ms Villiers said: "It is our firm assessment that the leaderships of the main paramilitary groups are committed to peaceful means to achieve their political objectives."

Ms Villiers said that most of the paramilitary groups still "organise themselves along militaristic lines", with the report saying that this made them "look more prepared for a campaign of violence than they are".

The report was based on assessments by the Police Service of Northern Ireland and MI5 and examined groups including the Provisional IRA, Red Hand Commando, Irish National Liberation Army, Ulster Volunteer Force and Ulster Defence Association. Ms Villiers told parliament that "much of this assessment makes uncomfortable reading," adding: "These organisations should never have existed in the first place and, 21 years after the first ceasefires and 17 years after the Belfast Agreement, it is clearly unacceptable that they still exist today."

It also reported that some of the other groups - such as the Irish National Liberation Army, Ulster Defence Association and the Ulster Volunteer Force - have become involved in crime such as drug dealing and racketeering, despite the efforts of their leaders to concentrate on positive community activism.

The review was called for after the murder of Kevin McGuigan in August - a suspected revenge attack for the murder of former IRA commander Gerard Davison three months earlier.The murder of Mr McGuigan, an ex-IRA man, saw all but one of the unionist ministers walk out, saying that trust in Sinn Fein had been shattered and leaving Stormont's power-sharing executive in chaos.

Crisis talks between the five main parties and the British and Irish governments have failed to resolve the problem, with these talks effectively awaiting the outcome of the review into paramilitary activity.

In the wake of the review's publication, the Democratic Unionist Party announced its ministers who had walked out would return to office but the party's Westminster leader Nigel Dodds said: "The report demonstrates the scale of the work that lies ahead in the talks process."

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