News from Syria, Saudi Arabia and Nigeria

Tuesday's World Events   —   Posted on April 22, 2014

SYRIA: Bashar al-Assad ‘launching chemical weapons attacks with chlorine’

Bashar al-Assad‘s regime has reverted to the use of a chemical gas first used at Ypres in the First World War in a series of recent attacks, Western officials believe.

syria-map François Hollande, the French president, on Sunday declared the Syrian leader had continued to use chemical weapons on the front line, though he added definite proof had not yet been established.

Officials are examining attacks on at least three towns in the last week where credible reports point to the use of chlorine gas, leaving dozens of people seeking treatment for the symptoms of poisoning.

While the Syrian regime has handed over 80 per cent of its declared chemical weapons stockpile for destruction under UN supervision, the attacks appear to show Assad’s regime is continuing to use poison against its own civilians.

“We have a few elements of information but I do not have the proof,” Mr. Hollande said. “What I do know is what we have seen from this regime is the horrific methods it is capable of using and the rejection of any political transition.”

Gas attacks are seen as a particularly effective tool in sparking panic and fear in rebel-held areas. On Sunday, Laurent Fabius, the French foreign minister, indicated intelligence reports on the attacks were being scrutinized, stating his officials received “indications” of recent chemical attacks that were still being verified.


A child cries as he sits on a bed with others in Kfar Zita hospital following an alleged gas attack in the town (AP Photo)

American and British officials are thought to be currently examining video footage of Chinese manufactured chlorine gas canisters rigged with explosive detonators hitting the town of Kafr Zita near Hama.

Activists said the gas was used during fierce fighting when regime troops appeared to be losing control of the strategic town of Khan Sheikhoun.

Since the initial attack on April 11, there have been at least two more chlorine related incidents in the rebel region.

Two separate attacks were reported last week at Tamanah in Idlib province and Zahraa near Homs. Last month credible reports of gas attacks emerged from Harasta and Jobar, both near Damascus. …

In response to the rebel accusations, Damascus has blamed the al-Qaeda linked Jabhat al-Nusra, claiming it in fact used the gas.

Eliot Higgins, a British blogger known as Brown Moses, who follows attacks in Syria, believes the regime’s explanation does not stand up as the bomb was dropped from a helicopter. “As reports claim a helicopter dropped the bomb, it seems highly unlikely Jabhat al-Nusra would have been operating a helicopter,” he said.

Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, a director of SecureBio consultancy and a former commander of the British Army’s chemical readiness forces believes that the regime has already got rid of the declared stockpile under its direct control but that the 20 per cent of the arsenal still to be shipped under a UN accord signed last year would not be moved by an April 30 deadline as rebel forces control access points to the bases where it is stored.

A recent SecureBio report warned the continued use of any type of chemical weapon in Syria and a failure to ship the entire stockpile was triggering increasing efforts by al-Qaeda linked groups to obtain chemical materials. The risk of an mass attack in the Middle East by Jihadists based in Syria remained high.

SAUDI ARABIA –  Citizens frustrated with the government take their gripes to YouTube

As the world’s dominant oil producer, Saudi Arabia is often seen as a wealthy nation where poverty is not a problem. The country’s oil exports revenue in 2012 reached more than $336 billion, while the native population in the kingdom is around 20 million people.

SaudiArabiaHowever, some citizens say they do not feel that this vast amount of wealth is [reaching] them and they have taken to YouTube where a series of first-person videos of Saudis expressing their grievances have gone viral over the last few weeks, leading to several arrests in different parts of the country.

“Until when we will have to beg you to give us from this petroleum?” asked a man who identified himself as Abdulaziz Mohammed Al Dosari in a short video addressing the king. “Brother, give us some of the oil wealth you and your sons play with.”

A copy of the video gained over 1.8 million views since it was posted in March 22, and it soon inspired others to follow suit by recording videos showing men and women criticizing the royal family and complaining about corruption, low salaries and unemployment. At the end of each video, the speakers would show their national ID cards in a sign that they are not afraid to be found by authorities.


King Abdullah

This is not the first time for complaints about living conditions in the kingdom to gain traction online. A Twitter hashtag, “the salary is not enough,” was launched last summer and triggered more than 17.5 million tweets over the few months that followed.

King Khalid Foundation, a royal NGO that focuses on social issues, published a study last week that found that for a family of five to lead a decent life in the kingdom they need to make 8,926 Saudi riyals (SAR) ($2,380) per month. For comparison, in the public sector where the majority of the local workforce is employed, salaries begin at SAR 3,945 ($1,052) monthly.

Three men who appeared in videos were later arrested, according to the Associated Press.

Nervous that regional political turmoil could spill into the kingdom and cause instability, authorities have intensified its crackdown on activists in recent months.

The Monitor of Human Rights in Saudi Arabia said on Tuesday that its founder Waleed Abu Alkhair was arrested when he was attending a hearing in his trial over charges such as “breaking allegiance to the ruler” and “disrespecting authorities.”

NIGERIA: Parents scour woods for daughters kidnapped by Islamist terrorist group Boko Haram

The parents of some of the girls abducted from a high school in north-east Nigeria have headed into the forest in a desperate search for their daughters.

More than 100 schoolgirls were taken by Islamist militants Boko Haram on Monday night (April 14). It is thought the militants took the girls to forested areas near the Cameroonian border.  The attack on the school was in Chibok, a remote part of Borno state. Gunmen reportedly stormed the school and ordered the students onto trucks. …

The military said on Wednesday that most of the girls had escaped. However, local officials and parents said more than 100 were still missing. 
On Thursday, Asabe Kwambura, principal of the school where the girls were abducted, told journalists that the report from the military was “not true” and that only 14 of the 129 kidnapped girls had escaped.  An aide to the local state governor, who asked not to be named, also told Reuters that “only 14 of the students have returned.”

Parents of the girls have told the BBC that more than 100 girls are still missing. The girls are believed to be being held in the Sambisa forest in north-east Nigeria.

A group of parents have raised money to buy fuel and water, and have headed into the forest with a local vigilante group to search for the girls.

It is an extremely dangerous mission, the BBC’s Will Ross in Lagos reports. The well-armed Boko Haram fighters have killed hundreds of civilians this year, slitting the throats of many of their victims, he says.

One father told the BBC he was willing to die in the forest in the attempt to free his daughter.

The air force, army, police, local defense units and volunteers have all been involved in the search for the schoolgirls.

Correspondents say the raid on the boarding school is a great source of embarrassment for the Nigerian authorities, who have been saying that their military campaign against the militants is succeeding.

Militants from Boko Haram – which means “Western education is forbidden” in the local Hausa language – frequently target educational institutions.

(The news briefs above are from London’s Daily Telegraph on April 20, The Wall Street Journal blog on April 16 and BBC News on April 17.)




About Islamist terrorist group Boko Haram: