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French forces kill Daesh Sahel militant leader wanted by US

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The head of Islamic State in the Greater Sahara, who was wanted for deadly attacks on US soldiers and foreign aid workers, has been killed in an operation by French troops.

Adnan Abu Walid Al-Sahrawi was “neutralized by French forces,” President Emmanuel Macron tweeted early Thursday.

“This is another major success in our fight against terrorist groups in the Sahel,” Macron said, without giving the location or details of the operation.

Defense Minister Florence Parly said Sahrawi died following a strike by France’s Barkhane force, which battles militants in the Sahel.

“It is a decisive blow against this terrorist group,” she tweeted. “Our fight continues.”

The militant leader was behind the killing of French aid workers in 2020 and was also wanted by the United States over a deadly 2017 attack on US troops in Niger.

Sahrawi in 2015 formed Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS), which is blamed for most of the militant attacks in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso.

The flashpoint “tri-border” area is frequently targeted by ISGS and the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims (GSIM).

ISGS has carried out deadly attacks targeting civilians and soldiers in the region.

The United States had offered a $5 million reward for information on the whereabouts of Sahrawi, who was wanted over an October 4, 2017 attack in Niger that killed four US Special Forces and four Niger troops.

On August 9, 2020, in Niger, the ISGS head personally ordered the killing of six French aid workers and their Niger guides and drivers.

In late 2019, the group carried out a series of large-scale attacks against military bases in Mali and Niger.

A former member of Western Sahara’s Polisario Front independence movement, Sahrawi joined Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and had also co-led Mujao, a Malian Islamist group responsible for kidnapping Spanish aid workers in Algeria and a group of Algerian diplomats in Mali in 2012.

The French military has killed several high-ranking members of ISGS under its strategy of targeting militant leaders since the start of its military intervention in Mali in 2013.

In June this year, Macron announced a major scaleback in France’s anti-militant Barkhane force in the Sahel after more than eight years of military presence in the vast region to refocus on counter-terrorism operations and supporting local forces.

“The nation is thinking this evening of all its heroes who died for France in the Sahel in the Serval and Barkhane operations, of the bereaved families, of all its wounded,” Macron added in another tweet after Sahrawi was killed.

“Their sacrifice is not in vain. With our African, European and American partners, we will continue this fight.”

The north of Mali fell under militant control in 2012 until they were pushed out of the cities by France’s military intervention in 2013.

But Mali, an impoverished and landlocked nation home to at least 20 ethnic groups, continues to battle militant attacks and intercommunal violence, which often spills over to neighboring countries.

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Myanmar opposition welcomes ASEAN’s junta snub, wants summit invite

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Myanmar’s shadow government, formed by opponents of ruling military, welcomed on Monday the exclusion of junta leader Min Aung Hlaing from an upcoming regional summit, but said it should be the legitimate representative.

However, the opposition said it would accept inviting a truly neutral alternative Myanmar representative, as decided over the weekend by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

ASEAN will invite a non-political representative from Myanmar to its Oct. 26-28 summit, in an unprecedented snub to the military leaders behind a Feb. 1 coup against Aung San Suu Kyi’s elected government.

The opposition National Unity Government (NUG), which has been outlawed by the military, said the non-political figure who attends the summit must not be a representative of the junta in disguise.

“ASEAN excluding Min Aung Hlaing is an important step, but we request that they recognize us as the proper representative,” said its spokesman Dr. Sasa.

The decision was an unusually bold step for the consensus-driven bloc, which traditionally favors a policy of engagement and non-interference.

Brunei, ASEAN’s current chair, issued a statement citing a lack of progress made on a roadmap that the junta had agreed to with ASEAN in April to restore peace in Myanmar.

A spokesman for Myanmar’s military government blamed “foreign intervention” for the decision which it said was against the objectives of ASEAN, the ASEAN Charter and its principles.

Myanmar has been in turmoil since the coup, which ended a decade of tentative democracy and economic reform. Thousands of its opponents have been arrested, including San Suu Kyi.

Security forces have killed more than 1,100 people, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, an activist group that has tracked the arrests and killings. The military has called its opponents “terrorists.”

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Landslides, floods kill at least 25 in southwest India

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At least 25 people have died in landslides and floods triggered by heavy rains in southwestern India, officials said Sunday, as rescuers scoured for survivors in muddy debris and the military flew in emergency supplies.

Residents were cut off in parts of the coastal state of Kerala as the rains, which started to intensify from late Friday, swelled rivers and flooded roads.

Some 11 bodies have been found so far in Idukki district and another 14 in Kottayam district, officials told AFP, after the areas were hit by landslides and flash floods.

Thousands of people have been evacuated and at least 100 relief camps have been set up, Kerala’s Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said Sunday.

The army, navy and airforce are assisting with flood relief and rescue operations. Officials could not say how many people were missing.

“It was my livelihood. Everything is gone,” a distraught man told Kerala news channel Manorama TV in Koottickal town in Kottayam, which was hit by a landslide.

“The hill broke off near us. There has been a lot of damage and loss. The house has gone. Children have gone,” a woman from Koottickal added.

Video shared on social media showed buses and cars submerged in floodwaters.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted his condolences and said authorities were working to help those who were affected or hit by the deluge.

The India Meteorological Department said the heavy rains, caused by a low pressure area over the southeastern Arabian Sea and Kerala, were expected to ease on Monday.

In northern India, some states including the Himalayan regions of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh are forecast to experience “heavy to very heavy rainfall” in the next two to three days, the weather bureau said.

The northern weather system would be caused by a low pressure area over Afghanistan and its surroundings interacting with strong winds from the Bay of Bengal, it added.

In 2018, nearly 500 people were killed in Kerala when it was ravaged by the worst floods to hit the state in almost a century.

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Date set for Iran nuclear talks

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Talks aimed at reviving the collapsed Iran nuclear deal will resume this week, two Iranian members of parliament said on Sunday.

After a private meeting with Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, MP Ahmad Alirezabeigui said “talks with the 4+1 Group will restart on Thursday in Brussels.” Another Iranian MP, Behrouz Mohebbi Najmabadi, said negotiations would resume “this week.”

The 4+1 Group consists of four UN Security Council permanent members — Britain, China, France and Russia — and Germany. They began negotiations with Iran in Vienna in April over reviving the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the agreement with world powers to curb Iran’s nuclear program in return for lifting economic sanctions.

That deal collapsed in 2018 when the US pulled out and President Donald Trump reimposed sanctions, and Iran responded by breaching the deal’s restrictions on its enrichment of uranium.

Trump’s successor Joe Biden is keen to revive the deal and the US is taking part indirectly in the Vienna talks. However, discussions have been suspended since June in a stalemate over who concedes first — Iran by complying with the agreement, or the US by lifting sanctions. US allies in the Gulf, including Saudi Arabia, are also concerned that the agreement fails to address wider issues such as Iran’s ballistic missiles and its malign regional activities.

EU diplomatic chief Josep Borrell said at the weekend he was ready to meet Iranian leaders. “The goal remains to resume negotiations in Vienna as quickly as possible,” his spokesman said.

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