Chad closes border with Libya over ‘terror threat’

Thu, 2017-01-05

N’DJAMENA/BENGHAZI: Chad announced on Thursday that it has closed its border with Libya due to the threat of a “potential terrorist infiltration” and is boosting its military presence in the region.
“Faced with the perils that threaten all of the nation’s territory, the government decided for one thing to close our land border with Libya, and for another to declare the regions bordering Libya military operation zones,” said Prime Minister Albert Pahimi Padacket in a message broadcast on radio and television.
The Tibesti desert border regions are sparsely populated but are used for dealing in contraband by those living on both sides of the border, mainly the ethnic Tubu people.
The premier said that the measures were taken because “following their defeat, some isolated terrorist groups have gathered in the south of Libya, putting the northern frontier of our country potentially exposed to a serious threat of a terrorist infiltration.”
He did not, however, provide information on the identity of these “terrorist groups” or what “defeat” they suffered in Libya.
The North African country has been mired in chaos since the 2011 downfall of longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi.
Warplanes under the command of a rival Libyan army general have attacked an air base under the control of the UN-backed government in a central area south of the country’s Mediterranean coast, officials said on Wednesday.
In a statement, the Tripoli-based government said “several” government-allied troops were wounded when an aircraft they were traveling in was struck in the attack by the eastern-based forces.
Libya fell into chaos following the 2011 ouster and killing of longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi. It remains divided between east and west, with no effective government and a multitude of rival factions and militias.
Field Marshal Khalifa Hifter, the military strongman in question, answers to Libya’s Parliament that is based in the east. That Parliament is at odds with the Tripoli government, which it doesn’t recognize.
Internal conflicts are escalating even as Daesh militants have been driven out of the central coastal city of Sirte, which had been the extremist group’s last bastion in the country.
The Libyan National Army, led by Hifter, said the attacks, hit Al-Jufra air base on Tuesday and Wednesday, destroying a C-130 military aircraft that was carrying ammunitions and forces loyal to loyal to Misrata militias when it landed, and a militia leadership meeting, resulting in one killed and eight wounded. The militias nominally back the Tripoli government, and are believed to receive arms from Turkey.
At a news conference in the eastern city of Benghazi, army spokesman Col. Ahmed Mosmary demanded the militias withdraw from the south or face continued attacks.
In a statement on Wednesday that did not mention the attacks specifically, the UN’s envoy to Libya warned against the risk of escalation leading to renewed conflict in the North African nation.
“I urge all parties to act with restraint and to resolve issues through peaceful dialogue,” Martin Kobler said, urging renewed efforts to find solutions to the political crisis and the Tripoli government’s difficulties in exercising authority over the country.
On Monday, a prominent member of the presidential council of the UN-backed government resigned, citing the inability of the government to rule the country — a major blow to the fledgling body.
Last week, the deputy head of the presidential council, Fathi Al-Mijabri, issued a decree to appoint one of his loyal supporters as the head of the intelligence services, stoking the ire of other members who called his move illegal.
In a separate televised news conference, also Wednesday, Prime Minister Fayez Al-Serraj rescinded recent decrees issued by Al-Mijabri, Including all appointments of security officials, and urged the council member who resigned, Musa Al-Kouni, to reconsider the move.
Chad is seen as a key ally of the West in its fight against militants in Africa. President Idriss Deby Itno is supported by France and the US, who need the cooperation of the Chadian military in the region.
The country is part of the regional alliance fighting Boko Haram militants who have spread their insurgency from northern Nigeria to the border regions of neighboring Chad, Niger and Cameroon.

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Japan investigating dolphin escape in slaughter town

Agence France Presse
Thu, 2017-01-05

TOKYO: Japanese police said Thursday they were investigating the escape of four dolphins from a park in a Japanese town that has gained international notoriety for staging an annual slaughter of the mammals.
A fisherman in the city of Taiji noticed that four bottlenose dolphins from the facility were swimming outside their netted enclosure in the early morning, police said.
“We are investigating the case on suspicion of criminal damage,” a police official in the nearby city of Shingu told AFP.
He said two of the nets at the DolphinBase park were apparently cut with a sharp object, allowing the mammals to escape, before three of them returned to the enclosure of their own volition. A fourth dolphin was swimming nearby.
Taiji, a small port in western Japan’s Wakayama prefecture, was thrust into the global spotlight after the 2009 documentary “The Cove.”
The Oscar-winning film depicted an annual dolphin slaughter in the area, where some of the animals are also captured and sold to aquariums.
Environmental campaigners visit Taiji every year to protest the slaughter and authorities have boosted security to prevent clashes between locals and activists.
Defenders of the hunt say it is a tradition and point out that the animals are not endangered, a position echoed by the Japanese government.
In September 2010, a net owned by a local fishermen’s union in Taiji was cut, with an Amsterdam-based environmental group claiming responsibility for the act, but no arrests were ever made in that case.
DolphinBase officials could not immediately be reached for comment on Thursday’s incident, but expressed outrage on their blog.
“We feel furious about this egoistic and irresponsible act,” they said.
Ric O’Barry, the director of “The Cove,” was detained in Japan last year for nearly three weeks after being denied entry to the country, and was eventually deported.
O’Barry’s Dolphin Project, a dolphin protection and campaign group, criticized the alleged cutting of the nets.
“While we are against keeping dolphins in captivity, we do not condone illegal behavior,” it said on its web site.

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South Korea to create unit to decapitate N. Korean leadership

Thu, 2017-01-05

SEOUL, South Korea: South Korea is accelerating plans to create a special military unit tasked with decapitating North Korea’s leadership in the event of war as it looks for options to counter its rival’s nuclear weapons and missiles, an official said Thursday.
The brigade, which will aim to remove the North’s wartime command and paralyze its function if war breaks out, will be launched this year, according to an official from Seoul’s Defense Ministry, who refused to be named, citing office rules. The unit was originally planned to be ready by 2019. The official refused to confirm whether the unit will train to execute pre-emptive strikes.
The plan was included in Defense Minister Han Min Koo’s policy briefing to Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn, who took over as government caretaker following President Park Geun-hye’s impeachment over a corruption scandal.
North Korea conducted two nuclear tests and a slew of rocket test firings last year in attempts to expand its nuclear weapons and missile program.
Following the North’s latest nuclear test in September, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff announced plans to strengthen its ability to conduct pre-emptive strikes.
It also said a “Korea Massive Punishment and Retaliation” system would use special forces and cruise missiles now under development to destroy areas where North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and the rest of the country’s decision-makers are located.

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Berlin truck attacker used at least 14 names — German police

Joseph Nasr and Matthias Inverardi | Reuters
Fri, 2017-01-06

BERLIN/DUESSELDORF, German: The Tunisian man who killed 12 people last month by plowing a truck into a Berlin Christmas market had lived under at least 14 different names in Germany, a regional police chief said on Thursday, raising more questions about security lapses.
Anis Amri, shot dead by Italian police in Milan on Dec. 23, had been marked as a potential threat by authorities in the western federal state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW)in February 2016, some six months after he arrived in Germany and applied for asylum.
“He acted in a conspiratorial manner and used various personalities,” Dieter Schuermann, head of the NRW Criminal Police Unit, told the regional parliament during a briefing.
The 24-year-old divided his time between NRW and Berlin, where intelligence officials also classified him as a potential threat. But there was a consensus among security officials that he posed no concrete threat, Schuermann said.
An investigation into the attack is focusing on whether Amri had any accomplices.
Police arrested another Tunisian man in Berlin this week, who prosecutors say had dinner with Amri at an Arab restaurant in the capital one day before the attack on Dec. 19.

‘Intensive discussion’
A spokeswoman for the prosecution said on Wednesday that Amri and the arrested suspect, identified as 26-year-old Bilel A., had “very intensive discussions” at the restaurant on the eve of the attack.
The co-owner of the restaurant in north Berlin where the two allegedly met told Reuters on Thursday he had not been aware that Amri had dined at the premises until police came asking if they could have CCTV footage recorded on Dec. 18.
“No one who was here that night remembers seeing him,” said the co-owner, declining to give his name and requesting the eatery not be named.
“We are so busy we hardly have time to breathe. The police said he was here between 8 and 9 p.m.,” said the man, serving lunch as the restaurant began filling up.
At a shelter for migrants at the western end of Berlin where Bilel A. was arrested, refugees who said they knew Amri’s suspected accomplice said he had always told them he was Libyan.
“The strangest thing about him was that he used to pray every day but most evenings he would go out to nightclubs with his friends,” said Mohammad, a 21-year-old Syrian refugee who said he had shared a room at the shelter with Bilel A. six months ago before moving to another room at the facility.

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Russian Marines in smashing Philippine charm offensive

Agence France Presse
Thu, 2017-01-05

MANILA: Russian Marines shattered glass bottles with their heads and smashed burning wooden planks against each other Thursday as part of an eye-catching charm offensive in the Philippines, a traditional US ally.
The camouflage-clad Marines showed off their pistol-shooting, knife-fighting and martial arts skills to the Filipino public in Manila’s central park as part of a “goodwill visit” spearheaded by two warships following Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s announced pivot away from the United States.
As bewildered passers-by watched, the Russians smashed boards with their fists, had cinder blocks crushed on their stomachs and endured beatings from flaming planks.
The show culminated with them smashing glass bottles on their heads without any visible effect.
After the display, eager Filipinos rushed to take “selfies” with the beret-wearing Russians.
“The performances were great, the stunts were quite impressive,” gushed student Antonio Chua.
Filipinos were also allowed to attend an open house on the submarine-hunter Admiral Tributs, one of the two ships making what was only the Russian Navy’s third-ever port call in the Philippines.
Duterte, who calls himself a socialist, has championed a move away from the United States and toward US rivals Russia and China following American criticism of his bloody war on crime that has claimed thousands of lives.
“America has lost,” Duterte said on a visit to China in October last year.
“I’ve realigned myself in your (Chinese) ideological flow and maybe I will also go to Russia to talk to (President Vladimir) Putin and tell him that there are three of us against the world: China, Philippines and Russia. It’s the only way.”
Russia’s ambassador to the Philippines Igor Khovaev said Thursday he expected a planned visit by Duterte to Russia in April or May to be “a milestone.”
“It will be a very successful visit that will give a powerful impetus (to our) cooperation in different fields,” Khovaev told reporters at the Marines’ display.

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7 inmates killed, 40 recaptured after Philippines’ biggest jailbreak

Ferdinandh Cabrera | AFP
Thu, 2017-01-05

KABACAN, Philippines: Philippine authorities said Thursday they had captured or killed dozens of men who escaped in the nation’s biggest jailbreak but more than 110 remained on the run in vast farmlands and isolated villages of the nation’s strife-torn south.
Suspected Muslim guerrillas stormed a decrepit jail in the major southern city of Kidapawan on Wednesday, freeing 158 prisoners and killing a guard, in what authorities said may have been a bid to free fellow rebels.
Forty of the inmates had been recaptured by Thursday afternoon, with seven others killed in the manhunt that involved security forces firing mortars at some escapees in remote farmlands and jungles, jail authorities said.
But they emphasised there were many obstacles in the operation.
“This is a very wide area. Aside from sugar, rubber and coconut plantations, there are areas and camps held by rebels that we cannot easily enter,” jail warden Peter Bongngat told AFP.
Thirty-nine of the escapees were accused of rape, while 35 were in jail for murder, according to a list released by prison authorities.
In Kabacan, a farming town about 30 kilometers (18 miles) from Kidapawan, residents tipped off search teams about inmates who were hiding and sleeping in rubber and palm oil plantations, using thick vegetation as cover.
“We are alarmed because (prisoners) are convicted criminals. But what’s good is that our citizens are cooperating,” Kabacan mayor Herlo Guzman told AFP.
The southern Philippines is home to a decades-old Muslim separatist insurgency, as well as extremist gangs that have recently declared allegiance to the Daesh.
The southern region of Mindanao is the ancestral homeland of the Muslim minority in the largely Catholic Philippines.
The badly overcrowded jail in Kidapawan, 950 kilometers (590 miles) south of Manila, housed about 1,500 inmates. It is a run-down former school building that militants have targeted repeatedly over the past 15 years.
In 2007, Khair Mundos, a Filipino who would later become one of the world’s most wanted accused terrorists escaped along with 48 other inmates. Mundos, with a $500,000 bounty from the US government, was recaptured in Manila seven years later.

RELATED VIDEO: 110 inmates on the run after Philippines’ biggest jailbreak

But Wednesday’s jailbreak was the biggest in the nation’s history, Bureau of Jail Management and Penology spokesman Xavier Solda told AFP.
Solda said 13 “high-value targets” — seven Muslim rebels and six organized crime gang members — had not been able to escape on Wednesday.
On Wednesday, Bongngat said the attackers were believed to be militants who had broken away from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the nation’s largest Muslim rebel organization which is in peace talks with the government.
The MILF, which has about 10,000 armed followers, has been fighting since the 1970s for independence or autonomy.
The armed struggle has claimed more than 120,000 lives although the MILF has in recent years observed a cease-fire as part of the peace process.
MILF spokesman Von Al-Haq insisted Thursday that none of its members was involved in the raid, adding the group was willing to coordinate with the government to allow searches in its communities.
“The commander named to be the leader of the raid was 100 percent a notorious criminal. He was never a member of the MILF,” Al-Haq told AFP.
Al-Haq said the commander, known by an alias of Commander Derby, had broken into the jail to release a relative who was the leader of the Muslim inmates.
Al-Haq said the relative and the leader of the Christian inmates were among the first to escape, and remained on the run.

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Niger says more Boko Haram fighters have defected

Agence France Presse
Thu, 2017-01-05

NIAMEY, Niger: Around 20 more members of the jihadist group Boko Haram have surrendered in Niger, the government says.
“About 50 Boko Haram fighters have now given themselves up” since December 27, Niger’s interior minister, Bazoum Mohamed, said in an interview broadcast late Wednesday on the state TV channel Tele Sahel.
The combatants surrendered at Diffa, in southeastern Niger, a Boko Haram stronghold close to the border with Nigeria, where 31 fighters turned themselves in at the end of last month.
Mohamed attributed the success to a military squeeze on the group, launched in July, coordinated with security forces in Nigeria and Chad, where the group also operates.
More surrenders will follow, he said, adding “in some sectors, the war (against Boko Haram) is already over.”
But he warned that “organized Boko Haram elements are training” in the marshes of Lake Chad, a zone that straddles the three countries.
Three Niger soldiers were killed and seven wounded on the night of New Year’s Eve when Boko Haram fighters attacked their position at Baroua, in the Diffa region, the military say.
Fifteen assailants were killed and another one was captured, they say.
Boko Haram is waging a seven-year-old uprising against the Nigerian state that has claimed more than 20,000 lives, with the insurgency spilling over the West African nation’s borders into neighboring states.
The violence has left around 2.6 million people homeless, sparking a dire humanitarian crisis, with the United Nations warning the affected region faces the “largest crisis in Africa.”
Diffa is one of the worst-hit regions, with around 300,000 people supported by a local population which is already chronically poor.

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Bin Laden son, AQAP leader added to US terror blacklist

Thu, 2017-01-05

WASHINGTON: A son of late Al-Qaeda head Osama Bin Laden and a leader of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula were added to the US counter-terrorism blacklist on Thursday, a move to keep them from using the US financial system, the State Department said.
The State and Treasury departments said they had designated Hamza Bin Laden and Ibrahim Al-Banna as global terrorists. Bin Laden, a son of the deceased Al-Qaeda leader, has been declared a member of the group by senior leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri, according to the State Department.
Bruce Reidel, an analyst with the Brookings Institution think tank in Washington, has called Hamza Bin Laden the “new face for Al-Qaeda” and “an articulate and dangerous enemy.”
Al-Banna is a senior member of AQAP who has served as the group’s security chief and has provided military and security advice to AQAP leaders, the State Department said.
The Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control added Bin Laden and Al-Banna to its list of specially designated nationals, a counterterrorism blacklist. The State Department said the two had been identified as specially designated global terrorists.
Any property owned by the two men and subject to US jurisdiction may be frozen and US citizens are prohibited from engaging in any transactions with them, the State Department said. The designation is viewed as a powerful tool to deny them access to the US financial system.
Bin Laden, who was born in Saudi Arabia, has called for acts of terrorism in western capitals and threatened to take revenge against the United States for his father’s killing, the State Department said.
He has threatened to target Americans abroad and urged Saudi tribes to unite with AQAP in Yemen to fight against Saudi Arabia, it said.
Osama Bin Laden was killed by US special forces who raided his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in May 2011. Hamza Bin Laden was thought to be under house arrest in Iran at the time, and documents recovered from the compound indicated that aides had been trying to reunite him with his father.
Al-Banna, who was born in Egypt, has described Al-Qaeda’s Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington as “virtuous” and threatened to target Americans in the United States and abroad, the State Department said.
Before joining AQAP, he was a leader of Egyptian Islamic Jihad in Yemen, it said. (Reporting by David Alexander)

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