Africa News blog

African business, politics and lifestyle

Al Qaeda and France raise the stakes in the Sahara

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sarkoAl Qaeda’s North African wing has been creeping up the radar with an increase in attacks in the Sahara. But some have still sought to play down any strategic threat, citing the lack of key interests in the desert.

Westerners were at risk – a couple have also died in the hands of the Islamists – but incidents had mostly ended with in some sort of agreement involving a mix of prisoner swaps and, say experts, cash being passed to the right people.

There has also been intense debate over how loyal to al Qaeda-central the fighters are, as opposed to a bunch of bandits taking advantage of little government control.

Then five French nationals and two other foreigners – all of whom worked in Niger’s uranium mines where French nuclear giant Areva has vast investments – were plucked from their houses as they slept.

Was Nigerian bomber a one-off?

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SECURITY-AIRLINE/TRANSITQuite apart from the Nigerian would-be plane bomber’s lack of success, there are other reasons why Africa’s most populous nation cannot be expected to produce a rash of similar cases.

As this Reuters story from Sahabi Yahaya in the bomber’s home town of Funtua points out, it is Umar Abdulmutallab’s foreign education rather than his background in Muslim northern Nigeria that is seen as having radicalised him.

Some questions about al-Shabaab

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Have the Islamists started to go too far in Somalia?

The reaction among ordinary Somalis to an al-Shabaab car bomb attack on African Union peacemakers last week may be instructive.

The attack was billed as an act of revenge against America for a commando raid carried out a few days earlier by U.S. troops, who killed one of the most wanted al Qaeda men in Africa.

Why was Edwin Dyer killed?

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Edwin Dyer was among a group of Western tourists kidnapped on the Niger-Mali border after attending a festival of Tuareg culture in late January.

Four months later the Briton was killed by al Qaeda’s North African wing, which had been demanding the release of Abu Qatada, a Jordanian Islamist being held in Britain.

Somalia’s new chance

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How times change. Somalia’s new Islamist president has been feted in Ethiopia, whose army drove him from power two years ago – with Washington’s backing – when he headed a sharia courts movement.

Sheikh Sharif Ahmed was greeted with a standing ovation from African Union leaders at a summit in Ethiopia, which pulled the last of its troops out of Somalia last month, leaving the government in control of little beyond parts of Mogadishu. The hardline Islamist al Shabaab militia control much of the rest of southern Somalia.

What hope for Somalia?

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Fighting in Mogadishu. Kidnaps of foreign aid workers. Hijacks by pirates. Africa’s worst humanitarian crisis.

The news from Somalia seems to be relentlessly negative, writes Reuters Somalia correspondent Guled Mohamed. So it has been for the best part of 17 years since warlords overran the country in 1991 to usher in the modern period of chaos in this part of the Horn of Africa.

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