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Jihadist suicide bombings signal comeback
by Staff Writers
Baghdad (UPI) Feb 5, 2013

France to begin Mali troop withdrawal in March: Fabius
Paris (AFP) Feb 05, 2013 - France expects to begin withdrawing its soldiers from Mali "starting in March, if all goes as planned", French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said in a newspaper interview to be published Wednesday.

"I think that starting in March, if all goes as planned, the number of French troops could be reduced," Fabius told the daily Metro. Nearly 4,000 French soldiers are currently deployed in Mali in an operation against Islamist militants.

"France does not want to remain permanently in Mali. It is the Africans and the Malians themselves who must guarantee security, the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the country," Fabius said.

"That is why we are going to, progressively, pass the baton to AFISMA (the African military mission to Mali). We ourselves are going to continue to act in the north where there remain terrorist pockets," he added.

Fabius called the first phase of the operation "very effective in blocking the terrorist groups and retaking cities" in the north.

"The narco-terrorist groups have been stopped.... (but) we have to remain on our guard in Mali as in the neighbouring countries... the risk is still there," he said.

France launched a military intervention in Mali on January 11 to push back an advance towards the capital Bamako by Islamist fighters who last year seized control of large swathes of the north of the country.

Insecurity could hit Iraq provincial poll: election official
Baghdad (AFP) Feb 6, 2013 - Security concerns sparked by anti-government rallies in mostly-Sunni areas of Iraq in recent weeks could hamper provincial polls due in April, a top election official said on Wednesday.

Muqdad al-Sharifi, the chief electoral officer of Iraq's Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC), also told reporters that 131 candidates had been barred from the April 20 vote due to their ties to the Baath Party of now-executed dictator Saddam Hussein.

"We have a problem in some provinces where there is a political crisis," Sharifi said, referring to weeks of demonstrations in north and west Iraq against the alleged targeting of the Sunni community by the country's Shiite-led authorities.

"The commission is worried about the continuation of this situation ... because it will create problems for the elections," he said in Baghdad at a joint news conference with UN special envoy Martin Kobler.

Sharifi said IHEC staff in Iraq's north and west had been sent threatening letters warning them against taking part in the polls.

Kobler too said the protests were "of increasing concern".

"I do hope that the demonstrations going on do not impact on the elections," he said.

Sharifi also said that of a total of 8,224 candidates who had registered to run in the elections, 131 had been barred by a commission charged with filtering out those with ties to Saddam's Baath Party.

The issue of so-called de-Baathification was extremely controversial during Iraq's 2010 parliamentary elections, the country's last set of polls, because those barred accused the commission of disproportionately targeting Sunnis.

The provincial elections come amid a political crisis in Iraq that has pitted Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki against several of his erstwhile government partners and tensions have been heightened by the protests.

Al-Qaida and its allies have unleashed a wave of suicide bombings across the Middle East and other regions in which hundreds of people have been killed, suggesting a jihadist resurgence.

Iraq, Yemen, Pakistan, Algeria, Mali, Egypt, Libya and, probably most dangerously, Syria have all been gripped by a surge of jihadist violence and a new chapter of constantly changing Islamic extremism seems to be evolving.

It's not clear if the attacks are coordinated. The original al-Qaida Central, established by Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, the longtime Egyptian deputy who succeeded him, isn't believed to have controlled the global network for several years.

These days, largely grassroots jihadist groups, such as al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb in North Africa and al-Qaida in Iraq, operate independently. The groups are connected by a core of seasoned, hard-line operatives who have spread around the world and some see the hand of Zawahiri, long the eminence grise behind bin Laden.

In recent weeks, the surge in suicide bombings, the signature tactic of these so-called holy warriors, suggests that they no longer seem to be in terminal decline after several years of an aggressive U.S.-led campaign to decapitate and dismantle the organizations.

They appear to making significant headway, as witness the jihadist seizure of northern Mali, an area the size of France, in 2012.

Among the recent suicide attacks:

-- at least 33 people were killed Sunday in Kirkuk in northern Iraq when a suicide bomber detonated a truckload of explosives outside a police headquarters, apparently seeking to inflame sectarian conflict between rival Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds.

AQI, once weakened by U.S. forces that withdrew in December 2011, has been given immense impetus by the inflow of arms and seasoned fighters from neighboring Syria.

-- The al Nusrah Front, the leading jihadist force in Syria, claimed responsibility for Jan. 21 and 23 suicide attacks on Syrian military bases, in which two trucks, one reportedly loaded with 20 tons of explosives, the other with 3.5 tons, were employed.

Al Nusrah Front, led by Iraqi veterans who fought the Americans, has claimed 48 of 58 suicide attacks in Syrian since December 2011.

-- On Jan. 16, an AQIM force of some 30 jihadists from Libya seized the In Amenas natural gas complex in southeastern Algeria. Special Forces killed most of the attackers, and 38 foreign hostages also perished, in a four-day siege.

U.S. officials say the operation was planned as a massive suicide mission in which the whole facility was to be blown sky-high.

All this is taking place 20 months after U.S. Special Forces assassinated bin Laden, al-Qaida's iconic founder and leader, in his Pakistani hideaway, a milestone in the battle against jihad.

"When Osama bin Laden was killed ... a long, bloody and controversial battle seemed to be drawing to a close," Roula Khalaf and James Blitz observed in the Financial Times.

"Yet today, the threat from jihadis appears once again to be on the rise, though it has taken a more nebulous, multifarious face."

But, possibly more worryingly, al-Qaida's resurgence is happening in the political turmoil triggered by the so-called Arab Spring in early 2011 in which long-suppressed Muslims rose up to bring down powerful dictators in a wave of pro-democracy uprisings.

They did in eight months what the jihadists has failed for years to achieve. Among the victims was Moammar Gadhafi, longtime leader of Libya killed at the end of an 8-month civil war in October 2011.

It looked for all the world as though the Islamist extremists had been shunted aside by people power. But they've managed to exploit the post-revolution disorder and the ideological void to their advantage, particularly in Syria, a pivotal Arab state allied with Iran.

In Syria, resilient jihadists are the most effective group fighting to bring down the brutal regime of President Bashar Assad, and may emerge as the most dominant force in any successor regime.

"Long before Moammar Gadhafi was ousted in Libya, jihadists and other militants thrive in power vacuums," the U.S. global security consultancy Stratfor noted.

"This assertion has proved true in Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia, and more recently in Libya, northern Mali and now Syria. Weapons flooding into such regions only compound the problem."


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Yemen troops kill 12 'Qaeda militants': source
Aden (AFP) Feb 2, 2013
Yemen's armed forces killed 12 suspected Al-Qaeda militants in an assault on their mountain hideout in the country's restive south, an official in the region said on Saturday. The military used artillery and aircraft to target the hideout near Shaqra, 35 kilometres (22 miles) from the Abyan capital of Zinjibar, in the operation late on Friday, the official said on condition of anonymity. ... read more

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