Boko Haram Has Grown Stronger, More Lethal And Less Compromising

Boko Haram Has Grown Stronger, More Lethal And Less Compromising

By Robyn Dixon, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

In a year packed with terrorist attacks, the world’s deadliest militant group has carried out massacres the size of the San Bernardino, Calif., killings once or twice a week. And over time, it has undertaken dozens of attacks that dwarf November’s deadly rampage in Paris, sometimes shooting down several hundred civilians at a time.

Boko Haram, the Nigerian Islamist group, has been more deadly than Islamic State. And every time Nigeria’s army seems to have made substantial progress toward wiping it out, the group has quietly rebuilt. Its members cut the throats of schoolboys, casting them aside to bleed to death. And they behead victims, like Islamic State, and record the atrocities on video.

Although Boko Haram has at times threatened the West, it has largely focused on poor Nigerian villagers, far from the media spotlight.

Five years ago, in a clandestine interview in Kano, a leader of Boko Haram described acts of terrorism against the U.S. as “divine worship.”

“They are fighting Islam, and we will also fight them, if we get the chance,” he said.

Boko Haram, modeled on Afghanistan’s Taliban, was at its lowest ebb in 2010, with Nigerian authorities confident they had brought the organization to its knees after having killed 700 of its fighters in a battle the previous year. But Boko Haram went underground, regrouped and has since launched thousands of attacks. Last year, it was the world’s most deadly terrorist group, according to the Global Terrorism Index released recently by the Institute for Economics and Peace, a research group.

“It’s proven to be one of the most resilient organizations. It’s evolved quickly. It’s shifted alliances. It’s been pronounced dead numerous times,” said J. Peter Pham, director of the Africa Center at the Atlantic Council, another research group.

“At one point it had no outside support. Then they got support from al-Qaida. It dropped al-Qaida and went over to the new winning team, ISIS,” he said, referring to Islamic State, which claimed responsibility for the recent terrorist attacks in Paris.

Boko Haram was blamed for recent twin suicide bombings in Kano, one carried out by an 11-year-old girl, and a market bombing in Yola that killed 34. The extremist group was responsible for 6,644 deaths in 2014, a 300 percent increase from the previous year, according to the Global Terrorism Index. In comparison, Islamic State killed 6,073 people in 2014.

The overall number of terrorism deaths increased from 18,111 in 2013 to 32,685 in 2014, the report said; the most terrifying place to live was in the northeast Nigeria region that is Boko Haram’s home turf.

Victims of the group, and of others like Somalia’s al-Shabaab, describe attackers displaying a cold, emotionless aura in some of the continent’s worst terrorist attacks, including two in Kenya: the Westgate shopping mall massacre in 2013, in which 67 people were killed; and another at Garissa University College in April, in which 148 were killed, most of them students. Both demonstrated how much damage a few heavily armed suicidal men can cause in a short time.

As in Paris and San Bernardino, typical Boko Haram attacks target people simply going about their business.

Dozens of terrorist fighters swarm into a village or town on motorcycles or in pickup trucks and open fire on a market or square. In many attacks, hundreds of people have been killed, some of them burned alive, according to survivors. Men and boys as young as 10 would be dragged from their houses and shot, or slaughtered with knives.

Hauwa Umar saw men’s beheaded bodies strewn about the town of Gwoza after Boko Haram attacked in August last year.

“There were uncountable bodies without heads,” she said in a March interview. “Boko Haram kept saying, ‘Stop crying! Stop crying!’ I couldn’t stop crying, and they’d shoot their guns in the air to shock you. But I kept on crying.”

Women and children were abducted as sex slaves. (Hundreds have been released in recent months, but not 219 girls still missing from among 276 abducted from Chibok last year.

Shehu Sani, a Nigerian senator and human rights activist, has been involved in repeated efforts to negotiate a cease-fire with Boko Haram under President Goodluck Jonathan and his successor, Muhammadu Buhari. But the talks, also designed to secure the freedom of the kidnapped Chibok girls, have so far failed. Buhari set a deadline to crush the militant group by December, but his office recently acknowledged that the effort would take longer.

Boko Haram has become more violent and more difficult to negotiate with since rebranding itself the Islamic State’s West Africa Province this year, Sani said.

“They have stepped up attacks on soft targets, killing innocent people,” he said.

The army’s success in driving Boko Haram from its forest hideouts in recent months merely resulted in the group going underground, moving to cities and launching attacks on civilians, Sani said.

Early on, the group acted like a religious cult, demanding that followers sell all of their “sinful” belongings including vehicles, furniture, televisions and even the tools of their trades to fill its coffers. Wives described husbands who refused to allow them to leave the house. The men grew long beards and came home with guns and bombs, the women said.

Later the group won funding and support from al-Qaida’s African affiliate, and early this year switched loyalties to Islamic State, embracing its apocalyptic ideology in return for its backing.

“With that type of ideological absolutism where they’re aspiring to be a universal empire of religion, there’s no compromise possible,” said Pham, the analyst, referring to Islamic State. “And Boko Haram is evolving the same ideology. Perhaps earlier in its history, when (it) was primarily a local concern and its ideology was not as rigid in its adherence to absolutism, perhaps there might have been a possibility of compromise. But that moment has gone by.

“To date, they have not shown themselves to be a direct threat to Western countries,” Pham said. “But I wouldn’t rule it out in the future. It has evolved very quickly. That they haven’t attacked foreign targets doesn’t mean they don’t have that ambition or couldn’t evolve a strategy.”

©2015 Los Angeles Times. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: A man holds a sign that reads “Stop Boko Haram” at a rally to support Chadian troops heading to Cameroon to fight Boko Haram, in Ndjamena January 17, 2015. REUTERS/Emmanuel Braun 


Jihadis Recruit Women, But Usually Not To Fight

Jihadis Recruit Women, But Usually Not To Fight

By Robyn Dixon, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

She is popularly known as “the White Widow,” but the truth about the blue-eyed jihadist suspected of orchestrating the deaths of hundreds of people across Africa is as shadowy as the cloaked world of international terrorism she inhabits.

No one knows the whereabouts of Samantha Lewthwaite, a purported ringleader with the Somali militant group al-Shabaab who is suspected in a string of grenade attacks, bombings and mass shootings in Kenya. Conventional wisdom has it that she put on 30 pounds and had plastic surgery to disguise her appearance. One theory is that she’s now in Syria with Islamic State insurgents, training suicide bombers. Another holds that she died in Ukraine, shot by a Russian sniper. Some say she is alive somewhere in Somalia, married to a warlord.

Lewthwaite, a British soldier’s daughter who converted to Islam as a teenager and later joined the terrorist underground, is one of the best-known of a growing cadre of operational women in the conservative and often patriarchal ranks of Islamic extremism. While significant numbers of women are believed to have flocked to Syria over the past two years to serve as home-base support for Islamic State, hardly any have been seen plotting and carrying out the executions, shootings and bombings that have become the militant group’s signature around the world.

The White Widow, as she was named by the British press, is an exception. So is Tashfeen Malik, who with her husband wielded a .223-caliber tactical rifle in the Dec. 2 attack in a San Bernadino, Calif., killing 14 people, and then sprayed a hail of gunfire at pursuing police.

While women have a long history among violent militant organizations in Europe and Latin America — even in the Middle East, women have been an important part of the Kurdish rebellion in Turkey and northern Iraq — female attackers have been far more rare in such organizations as al-Qaida, where women are normally encouraged to raise families and tend homes for male fighters.

Islamic State in recent years has established the all-female al-Khansaa brigade, and online propaganda glorified its role, featuring women clad from head to toe in black flowing garments and toting AK-47s. But the brigade’s role is merely to police other women’s veils and morals, ordering whippings for those whose face coverings are deemed too transparent.

But female operatives among Islamist groups are not unprecedented, terrorism analysts say, with examples of female suicide bombers dating back to the 1990s in the Russian republic of Chechnya, and in the Palestinian territories and northeastern Nigeria.

In the early days of Chechnya’s unsuccessful war for independence from Russia, women in the conservative Islamic region were so subservient they didn’t even eat at the same table as men. Yet there were dozens of female militants, who fought alongside men in rebel units, according to Mairbek Vatchagaev, analyst with the Jamestown Foundation. He said it was one of the few examples of Muslim women fighting beside men in war.

“It was their personal feeling in their soul that they must defend their homeland. But it wasn’t compulsory for women to fight. On the contrary,” Vatchagaev said. “The women in the first war (1994-96) didn’t talk about Islam. They talked about their patriotic duty to their homeland.”

The phenomenon of women taking up arms was unexpected in Chechnya’s conservative culture, and some women’s husbands divorced them for doing so.

In 1995, a group of Arab fighters steeped in conservative Islamist ideology, led by a rebel commander named Khattab, entered Chechnya and proclaimed it was a sin for women to fight. Still, they urged women to be suicide bombers, leading to the phenomenon of Chechen “black widows” who launched many suicide bombings in Russia.

“They taught them to blow themselves up and they told them it was good for Islam. The Arabs said if women blew themselves up, they’d go to heaven. But suicide bombings were totally alien to Chechens,” Vatchagaev said.

Thousands of Chechens are now in Syria, many of whom had been living in Turkey, Egypt and Saudi Arabia when Islamic State declared it was forming a caliphate in the region and invited Muslims around the world to join. There are many Chechen women in Syria, but none are known to be in combat roles, Vatchagaev said.

In northwestern Nigeria, girls as young as 8 or 10 have often been used as suicide bombers by the group Boko Haram, but there are suspicions that their explosive vests may have been detonated by other people.

There have been scattered lone-wolf attacks by women.

In 2010, British student Roshonara Choudhry stabbed a member of the British Parliament in an attack said to be inspired by al-Qaida. He survived and she is serving life imprisonment for attempted murder.

There is also the lurid story of “punk rocker granny” Sally Jones, designated a terrorist by the U.S., who traveled to Syria to marry convicted hacker Junaid Hussain. Hussain, a key figure in Islamic State because of his technology capabilities, was killed in a U.S. airstrike in August. Jones is a prominent Islamic State figure on social media.

Lewthwaite took the name Sherafiyah when she converted to Islam in her late teens. She is the widow of Germaine Lindsay, one of four suicide bombers who attacked three London subway cars and a bus in July 2005, killing 52 others. Having met Lindsay at an antiwar march in 2002, she fled England after his suicide attack. She went to Africa and later joined al-Shabaab.

Lewthwaite is the best known among contemporary female extremists because of reports, never confirmed, that she planned the 2013 attack on the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya, which killed 67 people; and the attack this year on a university in Garissa, northeastern Kenya, which left 148 people dead.

Interpol, at Kenya’s request, in 2013 issued a red alert for the arrest of Lewthwaite on charges of possession of explosives and conspiracy to commit a felony in 2011.

©2015 Los Angeles Times. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: An image made available by Jihadist media outlet Welayat Raqa on June 30, 2014 allegedly shows a member of the IS militant group parading in a street in the rebel-held Syrian city of Raqa


Kenya University Attack: At Least 147 Killed By al-Shabab Gunmen

Kenya University Attack: At Least 147 Killed By al-Shabab Gunmen

By Robyn Dixon, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

ABUJA, Nigeria — At least 147 people were killed after Somali militant group al-Shabab attacked a university in northeastern Kenya, the country’s Interior Ministry said as it announced that the fighting had ended.

All four attackers had also been killed, the ministry said. It was not immediately clear whether they included a suspect earlier reported captured or if that report had been inaccurate.

Scores of people were wounded and 500 had been accounted for, according to the Kenya National Disaster Operation Center. The university normally has about 815 students in residence.

Amref Health Africa, a Kenyan health organization that was one of the first responders on the scene, said in a statement that 25 bodies had been removed from one classroom after the attack on Garissa University College.

Nine critically injured victims of the attack had been airlifted to Nairobi for treatment, according to the Kenya National Disaster Operation Center.

Al-Shabab, an al-Qaida-linked group, claimed responsibility for the attack.

Authorities named the terrorist commander behind the attack as ethnic Somali Mohammed Mohamud, who also goes by the names Dulyadin and Gamadheere. The Interior Ministry released a photograph of Mohamud and offered a $220,000 reward for information leading to his arrest. Authorities had placed a $55,000 bounty on his head in December.

Al-Shabab said in a statement that the university was on Muslim land and was there to promulgate “missionary activities and to spread deviant ideology.”

The attack comes less than a week after an al-Shabab attack on a hotel in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, which killed 24 people.

Thursday’s attack began about 5:30 a.m. when gunmen stormed the campus as some Muslim students were rising for morning prayers.

Students fled in terror as the attackers sprayed the campus with gunfire. The sounds of heavy gunfire rang out as the day wore on, with reports that al-Shabab gunmen had taken positions on the roof, firing at security forces and anyone who tried to escape.

Interior Minister Joseph Nkiassey said an operations center had been established to coordinate the multiagency response to the attack that included both the military and police. Tanks were deployed.

According to the Reuters news agency, an al-Shabab spokesman, Sheik Abdiasis Abu Musab, said the group spared Muslim students — a hallmark in previous al-Shabab attacks that singled out Christians. The approach differentiates the group from Islamic State affiliates in Africa such as Nigerian terrorist group Boko Haram.

He claimed there were many dead and that the attackers at one point were holding many Christian students hostage.

Eyewitnesses described terrifying scenes as the gunmen attacked at dawn.

“All I could hear were footsteps and gunshots — nobody was screaming because they thought this would lead the gunmen to know where they are,” student Collins Wetangula told The Associated Press. He said that he and others locked themselves in their room, but gunmen came, looking for Christian students.

“If you were a Christian, you were shot on the spot. With each blast of the gun I thought I was going to die,” he said.

He said he and other students were saved when the Kenyan military arrived, driving the gunmen away and leading him and about 20 others to safety.

University staff said they tried to contact students inside the campus by phone but had been unable to do so, according to local media.

The attack comes days after warnings of a possible terrorist attack in Kenya. The British and Australian governments drew harsh criticism from the Kenyan government after Australia warned of possible terrorist attacks in Nairobi, and Britain warned its citizens to avoid travel to most coastal and northern areas.

Some critics said security at the university was inadequate, given previous attacks by al-Shabab in northern Kenya.

Police spokesman Joseph Boinnet said the officers on duty engaged the attackers in a fierce gun battle but that the gunmen managed to gain access to the campus.

“The attackers shot indiscriminately while inside the university compound,” Boinnet said in a statement. “Police officers who were on duty at the time guarding the students’ hostels heard the gunshots and responded swiftly and engaged the gunmen in a fierce shootout, however the attackers retreated and gained entry into the hostels.”

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta addressed the nation on television after the attack, announcing that he would send an extra 10,000 police recruits for training to increase security.

“We have suffered unnecessarily due to a shortage of security personnel. Kenya badly needs additional officers, and I will not keep the nation waiting,” the president said, offering condolences to families of the dead. He offered no additional information about the number of victims except to say that several people were killed or wounded and that others were taken hostage.

“I also assure the nation that my government has undertaken appropriate deployment to the affected area, and is fully seized of the situation,” he said. “I also urge Kenyans to stay calm as we resolve this matter, and to provide the authorities with any information they may have in connection with any threats to our security.

Al-Shabab, which is able to cross Kenya’s notoriously porous border at will, has carried out several horrifying attacks since late last year, including the massacres of 28 bus passengers and 36 quarry workers.

Last year was the deadliest since 2011 — when Kenya began its military intervention in Somalia — with more than 90 people killed in terrorist attacks near Lamu on the coast by al-Shabab or related Kenyan groups.

Al-Shabab has suffered recent setbacks in Somalia, with the killings of its secretive commander, Ahmed Abdi Godane, and other top figures in recent U.S. airstrikes. But it remains capable of carrying out devastating terrorist attacks, often using a handful of gunmen.

Its most notorious attack in Kenya was in 2013, when four gunmen killed 67 people at the upscale Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi.

Photo: Uhuru Kenyatta via Flickr

Opposition Candidate Builds Solid Lead In Nigeria Presidential Election

Opposition Candidate Builds Solid Lead In Nigeria Presidential Election

By Robyn Dixon, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

KANO, Nigeria — The opposition candidate in Nigeria’s presidential election, Muhammadu Buhari, drew ahead of President Goodluck Jonathan in vote counting Monday in the country’s hard-fought election.

With ballots from 22 of the country’s 36 states counted, Buhari was ahead with almost ten million votes, compared with nearly eight million for Jonathan.

If Buhari wins and takes office, it would be Nigeria’s first democratic transfer of power and a landmark for democracy on the continent.

Analysts predicted that Jonathan had fallen too far behind to recover.

As the president’s likely defeat became apparent, a senior member of the governing People’s Democratic Party, which has held power since the end of military rule in 1999, interrupted the count at the Independent National Electoral Commission tally center, shouting angrily that the counting had been rigged in favor of the opposition.

Godsday P. Orubebe, former minister for the oil-rich Niger Delta, accused Attahiru Jega, chairman of the commission, of being “tribalistic” and asserted that the count was biased in favor of Buhari. On Twitter, Orubebe has repeatedly congratulated Jonathan on winning, while other government officials have confidently asserted the president would emerge victorious.

After making his accusations, Orubebe stormed out of the tally center, setting the scene for an election result that may be bitterly contested after the final result is announced.

The opposition All Progressives Congress has also raised doubts about the results from several areas in Jonathan’s southern stronghold.

Massive turnout in Buhari’s stronghold, the impoverished, mainly Muslim north, helped boost his vote total. Turnout in Jonathan’s stronghold in the mainly Christian south and southeast didn’t appear enough to surpass the huge turnout for Buhari, a northern Muslim, in the populous north.

Photo: Chatham House via Flickr

Islamic State Accepts Boko Haram’s Allegiance Pledge

Islamic State Accepts Boko Haram’s Allegiance Pledge

By Robyn Dixon, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — Islamic State has accepted a pledge of allegiance by Nigerian extremist group Boko Haram, announcing the expansion of the Syrian-based organization into sub-Saharan Africa on Thursday.

In a move seen as a propaganda boost to Islamic State, Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau last week pledged allegiance to the extremist group, which has conquered large parts of Syria and Iraq and has declared its goal to establish a global state, or caliphate, led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Thousands of fighters from around the world have traveled to Syria to fight with Islamic State, including by becoming suicide bombers. They include Australian teen, Jake Bilardi, 18, who reportedly died in a suicide attack this week.

Islamic State’s formal acceptance of the pledge was widely expected. Boko Haram’s declaration was celebrated by Islamic State supporters, according to Twitter accounts purporting to be associated with the group. Photographs were circulated of fighters praising the move and sheep being slaughtered in celebration.

“Our caliph, God save him, has accepted the pledge of loyalty of our brothers of Boko Haram so we congratulate Muslims and our jihadi brothers in West Africa,” said Islamic State spokesman Abu Mohammad al-Adnani in an audio message posted online.

Adnani called on Muslims who couldn’t get to Syria to travel to the land of Islam and join Boko Haram’s fight instead.

The pledge comes at a time when both Boko Haram and Islamic State have reportedly suffered military setbacks.

Boko Haram declared its own Islamic state last year, capturing a large swath of territory, but its ability to run a state and hold territory is in doubt after a regional military force has driven its militants from more than 30 towns in recent weeks.

The African Union has endorsed a force of 10,000 soldiers to fight Boko Haram.

With just over two weeks to go before Nigerian elections, President Goodluck Jonathan told Voice of America on Thursday that Boko Haram would be defeated in a matter of days — although Nigerian leaders have often boasted that Boko Haram faced defeat, only to see it re-emerge.

In Syria and Iraq, Islamic State has faced airstrikes from a U.S.-led coalition as it battles the Syrian army and Kurdish forces. In Iraq, army forces and militias have advanced into Tikrit, a militant stronghold and the hometown of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein.

The acceptance of Boko Haram’s pledge comes as Islamic State challenges al-Qaida as the assumed leader of the Islamist jihadist movements.

Islamic State has threatened to attack Europe as part of its ideological goal of taking over Rome. It has also issued threats against the U.S., France, Italy, Britain, Australia and Canada, countries that are part of the coalition carrying out airstrikes against the group.

“We want, God willing, Paris before Rome,” Adnani said in the audio recording.

AFP Photo

Zimbabwe’s Mugabe To Head African Union, Despite Rights Record

Zimbabwe’s Mugabe To Head African Union, Despite Rights Record

By Robyn Dixon, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

JOHANNESBURG — Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, who came to power in 1980 and has been accused of significant human rights abuses in his country for much of his rule, was elected Friday as chairman of the African Union.

Mugabe’s election comes amid a backlash in Africa against Western leaders lecturing Africans on democracy and human rights — and while the continent cozies up to China, which is happy to pour in no-strings-attached aid.

It also comes with the continent appearing to backslide on democracy, with numerous presidents maneuvering to ditch constitutional limits on presidential terms in order to rule for life.

Mugabe, freedom fighter turned president, faces travel bans to the United States and Europe because of his country’s poor human rights record. In previous elections, opposition activists have been beaten or killed, questionable electoral rolls have been used and rights groups have alleged that food aid has been denied to opposition areas.

“By electing me to preside over this august body, with full knowledge of the onerous responsibility that lies ahead, I humbly accept your collective decision,” said the Zimbabwean president, who turns 91 next month.

He delivered one of his trademark slaps against the West, saying, “African resources should belong to Africa and to no one else, except to those we invite as friends. Friends we shall have, yes, but imperialists and colonialists no more.”

His spokesman, George Charamba, told Zimbabwe television on Thursday that Mugabe was concerned the continent’s leaders were trying to bend their policies to please the West and he would urge a more robust, independent stance from the African Union.

“He thinks that for a long time we have been kowtowing to Western interests,” said Charamba. “He thinks we have been trying, as it were, to bend our policies so as to win the goodwill of the West.”

Mugabe told African leaders his land reform program, criticized in the West after the collapse of agriculture set back the economy, had been successful because it put land in black hands and empowered black farmers. He said Zimbabwe’s tobacco industry was now thriving.

In 1984, Mugabe launched a military operation against opposition strongholds in southern Zimbabwe with the North Korean-trained 5th Brigade. The sweep killed an estimated 20,000 civilians.

In 2005, he attacked urban opposition strongholds by ordering mass evictions, leaving 700,000 people homeless, according to United Nations estimates. His government set up a youth militia, known as the “green bombers,” which abducted women as sex slaves and beat up, tortured and killed opposition activists, according to human rights groups, opposition figures and independent journalists. The violence was particularly pronounced before elections.

Mugabe, who is also currently chairman of the Southern African Development Community, took over the largely symbolic AU post because of a rotational system that meant the new leader had to come from southern Africa.

Zimbabwe’s independent Newsday newspaper criticized Mugabe’s widely expected election in an editorial Thursday.

“Mugabe, who has trampled on people’s human rights in Zimbabwe the greater part of his 35-year rule, will definitely not add any value to society,” the newspaper said. “Mugabe has stayed in power largely through election rigging and the arrest and intimidation of opponents. His reelection in the disputed and violent 2008 poll was especially controversial.

“But he has company in the AU,” the newspaper added. “Hence, his appointment simply shows the AU is a ‘dictators’ club’ given Equatorial Guinea President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo and Angola’s Jose Eduardo dos Santos have been in office longer than Mugabe himself.”

Mugabe has indicated he may run for election again in 2018 and once told journalists he planned to rule until he was 100.

Photo: Robert Mugabe, president of Zimbabwe, attends the 12th African Union Summit Feb. 2, 2009 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jesse B. Awalt via Wikimedia Commons)

Suicide Bomber Kills 48 High School Students At Nigeria School

Suicide Bomber Kills 48 High School Students At Nigeria School

By Robyn Dixon, Los Angeles Times

Dozens of schoolboys were killed Monday in a suicide bomb attack on a high school in the town of Potiskum in Nigeria’s Yobe state, Nigerian police confirmed Monday.

Monday’s attack happened at about 8 a.m. as students gathered for school assembly, according to local media.

Dozens were killed and injured, with 48 killed in the attack, carried out by an attacker disguised in a school uniform, according to AP. A police spokesman, Emmanuel Ojukwu, said 47 were dead and 79 injured.

“Many bodies of students are presently on the ground in pools of blood. We are running home now,” an unnamed witness told Nigeria’s Premium Times newspaper.

“We were waiting for the principal to address us, around 7:30 a.m., when we heard a deafening sound and I was blown off my feet, people started screaming and running, I saw blood all over my body,” 17-year-old student Musa Ibrahim Yahaya told AP, speaking in a hospital.

Since 2013, multiple attacks on schools and colleges in Yobe state in Nigeria’s troubled north-east have targeted schoolboys, students and teachers, often killing dozens at a time. The attacks are believed to be the work of the extremist Islamist militia, Boko Haram, which is bitterly opposed to Western-style secular education.

Boko Haram emerged about a decade ago, fighting for an Islamic state, but has stepped up attacks in recent years, killing thousands of Nigerians in the north east. Nigeria’s military, often accused of fleeing attacks or abandoning its posts, has been criticized for failing to halt the insurgency.

In north eastern Nigeria, extremists have also abducted hundreds of women and girls, including 279 abducted from a school in Chibok town earlier this year.

Nigerian authorities have repeatedly claimed progress in the fight against insurgents in the northeast of the country, only to be proven wrong. Boko Haram, or Islamist militia splinter groups have seized control of dozens of towns and villages in neighboring Borno and Adamawa states in recent months.

Last month, Nigerian authorities claimed to have reached a ceasefire deal with Boko Haram, but attacks and abductions have continued. A video purporting to be from the Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau recently repudiated any deal and said the Chibok girls had been married off to fighters. (The authenticity of the video hasn’t been established.)

In June last year, gunmen suspected to be from the extremist Islamist militia, Boko Haram, invaded a government high school in Damaturu, the Yobe state capital, shooting down eight boys and a teacher in the dining room. A month later, gunmen attacked a boys boarding school in Mamudo village, Yobe state, killing 42 people. The victims were shot to death or burned alive in their dormitories.

In September last year, gunmen invaded a dormitory at an agricultural college in the Gujba district of Yobe state, in the early hours of the morning and shot dozens of students in their beds, killing at least 42 students.

In February this year, gunmen attacked a school in Buni Yadi, Yobe state. They sent female students away, before killing 59 boys. The attackers threw petrol bombs into dormitories were students were sleeping, and sprayed the rooms with gunfire. Some students had their throats cut as they tried to flee.

Monday’s attack follows a suicide attack last week in Potiskum on a Shiite religious procession, killing 30 people.

AFP Photo

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Guy Scott, Who Is White, Becomes Zambia’s President With Death Of Sata

Guy Scott, Who Is White, Becomes Zambia’s President With Death Of Sata

By Robyn Dixon, Los Angeles Times

Guy Scott, famous in Zambia for his jocular, outspoken – and sometimes undiplomatic – tongue, became the nation’s acting president Wednesday, sub-Saharan Africa’s only current white head of state.

Scott took office after the death of President Michael Sata in London late Tuesday, amid questions about whether he can run for the office in coming elections.

Sata had appointed defense minister Edgar Lungu as acting president before departing for medical treatment in Britain. Sata’s Patriotic Front, reportedly in chaos, has been jostling over the succession while the president was sidelined by poor health.

But Section 38 of Zambia’s constitution is clear that when a president dies in office, the vice president becomes acting president, before calling a presidential election within 90 days.

Zambia’s constitution also has a clause that a president must be born of Zambian parents. Scott was born in Livingstone, when the country was still Northern Rhodesia, the son of a Scotsman and an English woman.

But in previous rulings on the question of presidential parentage, Zambia’s Supreme Court has found that people who lived in Northern Rhodesia and became citizens at independence were eligible to be president because there was no Zambia their parents could have lived in before 1964.

Scott has been at times controversial as vice president, angering the regional powerhouse, South Africa, which last year summoned the Zambian ambassador to explain remarks the vice president made in a newspaper interview that he pitied the advisors of South African President Jacob Zuma and “hated” South Africans who were “backward.”

Scott, appointed vice president in 2011, said in the 2013 Guardian interview that black South African leaders behaved like their white predecessors and compared Zuma with the last white South African president, F.W. de Klerk, who lost office when Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress swept to power in 1994.

The departure of De Klerk marked the last time a white man was the head of state in sub-Saharan Africa until Wednesday.

In 2012, Scott told The Spectator that former U.S. President George W. Bush “thought they were kidding” when Scott was introduced to him as vice president.

When he was elected in 2011, Scott said there had been no hint of resentment at a white man becoming vice president.

Sata died in a London hospital with his family at his side. There was anger in Zambia that the government concealed Sata’s still-unidentified illness after a statement last week that he was going abroad for a “medical checkup.”

Sata, rarely seen in public since last May, missed a speech at the United Nations last month and the country’s 50-year independence celebrations last week.

AFP Photo/Monirul Bhuiyan

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Prosecutors Appeal Pistorius’ Five-Year Sentence For Killing Girlfriend

Prosecutors Appeal Pistorius’ Five-Year Sentence For Killing Girlfriend

By Robyn Dixon, Los Angeles Times

JOHANNESBURG — South Africa’s National Prosecuting Authority will appeal the controversial murder acquittal of Olympic runner Oscar Pistorius and his five-year sentence for the lesser crime of culpable homicide.
The decision to appeal was announced Monday.

In South Africa, the prosecution can appeal a judgment only if an error has been made in law. A 1982 judgment, S v. Seekoei, appears to further limit the state’s right to appeal judgments, confining appeals to cases in which there is an acquittal.

Pistorius was sentenced to five years in jail for culpable homicide (negligent killing, similar to manslaughter in the U.S. justice system) for the fatal shooting last year of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp. Under South African law, he could be out of prison in 10 months, a sentence many regard as lenient.

A spokesman for the National Prosecuting Authority, Nathi Mncube, said the appeal was based on questions of law and the NPA’s argument would become clear once it filed papers seeking leave to appeal.

Mncube said prosecutors in the Pistorius case have been busy studying the judgment and consulting legal experts on the question of an appeal.

“The prosecutors are now preparing the necessary papers in order to be able to file within the next few days,” Mncube said.

James Grant, a law professor at the University of Witwatersrand, was among those saying that Masipa’s judgment was not well reasoned and would not likely stand up to scrutiny in a higher court.

Grant posted on Twitter last week that he was “strongly in favor” of an appeal. He said lead prosecutor Gerrie Nel consulted him on whether to appeal, and he advised him to do so.

“I have advised that he should appeal & agreed to assist,” Grant wrote.

Grant has specifically criticized the judge over her interpretation of a South African legal principle that murder includes a situation in which a person foresees that his or her actions will kill, but goes ahead anyway. In the Pistorius case, there was intense argument around the question of whether the athlete must have foreseen that shooting four expanding bullets into a small toilet cubicle would kill anyone inside, regardless of whether this was an intruder or his girlfriend.

AFP Photo/Alexander Joe

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Nobel Peace Prize Goes To Kailash Satyarthi And Malala Yousafzai

Nobel Peace Prize Goes To Kailash Satyarthi And Malala Yousafzai

By Robyn Dixon, Los Angeles Times

The 2014 Nobel Peace Prize is shared by Pakistani girls education activist Malala Yousafzai and Indian children’s rights activist Kailash Satyarthi, the Nobel committee announced Friday. At 17, Yousafzai is the youngest winner in history.

The committee awarded them the prize “for their struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education.”

Both are prominent advocates for the rights of children. Satyarthi has been fighting child labor and slavery since the 1990s.

They were chosen from a record field of 278 nominations, covering the year to February 2014.

Yousafzai was shot in the face by the Taliban in 2012 after she defied their ban on girls’ education. Four months later she declared she was not afraid of being attacked again and set up a foundation promoting girls’ education.

“I wanted to speak up for my rights and also I didn’t want my future to be just sitting in a room and be imprisoned in my four walls and just cooking and giving birth to children. I didn’t want to see my life in that way,” she said in a BBC interview last year.

“I hope that a day will come (when) the people of Pakistan will be free, they will have their rights, there will be peace and every girl and every boy will be going to school,” she said in the interview.

Since its inception in 1895, the Nobel Peace Prize has rewarded individuals and organizations who promote peace. The prize has not been awarded 19 times, including during much of the first and second world wars.

The Nobel committee has drawn criticism in the past for the striking under-representation of women among the peace prize laureates and for some controversial awards, including Barack Obama early in his first term, Yasser Arafat and Henry Kissinger.

Among the other favored nominees were Pope Francis; U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon; National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden; who alerted the world to the agency’s mass electronic surveillance; and Russian independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta, which has seen at least six of its journalists murdered in an atmosphere of increasing repression in Russia.

Other favorites included Congolese gynecologist Denis Mukwege, who offers hope and treatment to survivors of sexual violence in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo; and a Japanese pacifist organization, Japanese People Who Conserve Article 9, a group opposing government steps to reinterpret a constitutional ban on the country engaging in military aggression.

The least favored on the list may have been Russian President Vladimir Putin, who annexed Crimea earlier this year and is accused of supporting pro-Russian separatists fighting in eastern Ukraine. Putin has also cracked down on independent media and rights activists.

The prize is often awarded to organizations. Last year the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Some critics this year said no obvious candidate stood out, advocating that the committee award no prize at all. The year saw wars raging from Syria and Iraq to South Sudan, northern Nigeria and the Central African Republic, all of them notable for barbaric atrocities and killings.

AFP Photo/Peter Muhly

Oscar Pistorius Convicted Of Negligent Killing, Could Face Jail Time

Oscar Pistorius Convicted Of Negligent Killing, Could Face Jail Time

By Robyn Dixon, Los Angeles Times

PRETORIA, South Africa — South African Olympian Oscar Pistorius, who was cleared of murder in the killing of his girlfriend, was convicted Friday on the lesser charge of culpable homicide.

Judge Thokozile Masipa accepted the athlete’s defense that he mistook Reeva Steenkamp for an intruder. But she found that he was negligent when he fired four shots into the door of a toilet cubicle where the 29-year-old model had locked herself in the early hours of Valentine’s Day last year.
The judge asked Pistorius to stand to hear the verdict.

“The accused is found not guilty and discharged,” she said of the murder charges. “Instead he is found guilty of culpable homicide.”

Pistorius, who repeatedly broke down in tears during months of testimony, stood straight, staring ahead without showing any emotion.

Prosecutors had contended that Pistorius, 27, wanted to kill Steenkamp after they had an argument. South Africa’s National Prosecuting Authority expressed its disappointment over the verdict and said it would make a decision about whether to appeal after sentencing.

Pistorius could face significant prison time — or none at all — depending on how reckless he was in the judge’s view. A sentencing hearing is scheduled Oct. 13, when the defense and prosecution will make submissions to the court.

Pistorius, a double amputee, won fame and adulation for running in the 2012 Olympic Games in London on prosthetic legs, attracting sponsorships worth millions of dollars. Sponsors abruptly dropped him after the murder charges, and he appeared to lose public support after his poor performance on the witness stand.

His acquittal on the murder charges raises the possibility that he might resume a sporting career. But the emotional frailty he showed throughout the trial, weeping frequently and vomiting on hearing descriptions of Steenkamp’s wounds, may have irreparably damaged the Pistorius brand that sponsors once clamored for.

Although Masipa concluded there was insufficient evidence to convict the athlete of murder, she found him guilty of a negligent, although unintentional killing, known in South Africa as culpable homicide.

“The conduct of the accused shortly after the incident is inconsistent with the conduct of someone who intended to commit murder,” Masipa said.
Pistorius shouted for help, called an ambulance and security, tried to save Steenkamp’s life, and prayed to God to save her.

“From the above it cannot be said that the accused did not entertain a genuine belief that there was an intruder in the bathroom who posed a direct threat to his life,” Masipa said.

She also said there was no evidence that Pistorius foresaw the consequences of firing four bullets into the cubicle.

Prosecutor Gerrie Nel asked Masipa not to extend the athlete’s bail because of the serious nature of the conviction. He noted that Pistorius was involved in “an incident” at a nightclub in July. He also argued that Pistorius was a flight risk, saying he had sold his two last properties, and that there was nothing to keep him in South Africa.

Defense lawyer Barry Roux conceded that Pistorius should not have been at the nightclub and knew that appearing in public “invites problems.” But he said Pistorius sold the property to cover his legal costs and that that move showed his respect for the legal system.

Masipa was not persuaded by Nel’s argument. Pistorius remained free on bail.

Masipa began Friday by acquitting Pistorius of an unrelated charge of recklessly firing a weapon out of the sunroof of a car. She said the prosecution witnesses, both former friends of Pistorius, contradicted each other and that one of them was dishonest.

The judge also acquitted Pistorius on a charge of illegal possession of ammunition.

However, Masipa convicted Pistorius of recklessly discharging a firearm in a public place, in connection with an incident at a crowded restaurant north of Johannesburg called Tashas. Pistorius said the gun went off in his hands. The judge said he should not have asked to handle a gun in a crowded place, and she accepted the evidence of witnesses that he was warned that the weapon was loaded.

Many South Africans were surprised that the judge, though she found that Pistorius was dishonest when he repeatedly insisted that he never intended to fire the fatal shots, still acquitted him of murder. Some legal analysts suggested that Masipa had made a mistake that could provide a basis for an appeal.

But Masipa cited a legal precedent cautioning a judge against a guilty conviction just because an accused person lied under oath.

After the court recessed for a short break Friday, Pistorius remained in his place for a few minutes, then stood up, alone, fiddling with notes, still showing no emotion. His sister, Aimee Pistorius, was the first to approach and comfort him. Other family members stood in their places, as though still digesting the news of Pistorius’ conviction.

His uncle, Arnold Pistorius, turned to journalists, saying the damage done to the athlete by the trial was “tragic” and could never be rectified.
Later, he delivered a brief statement to reporters expressing the family’s gratitude to the judge for acquitting Pistorius of murder and saying a huge burden had been lifted.

With his wife, Lois, beside him, he said the family never doubted his nephew’s account. He added that they were deeply affected by Steenkamp’s death and said their hearts went out to her family, friends and supporters.

The Steenkamp family sat talking quietly among themselves.

AFP Photo/Kim Ludbrook

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Somali Terror Group Kills At Least A Dozen In Bombings

Somali Terror Group Kills At Least A Dozen In Bombings

By Robyn Dixon, Los Angeles Times

JOHANNESBURG — Somali terror group al-Shabab claimed responsibility for two suicide car bombings that killed at least a dozen civilians Monday south of the capital city of Mogadishu, the first attack since the group’s leader was killed a week earlier by a U.S. airstrike.

Dozens more were wounded in the explosions, including soldiers from the African Union force, AMISOM, which is fighting al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab to protect Somalia’s fragile government.
News agencies were reporting anywhere between 12 and 24 people killed, many of them passengers in a civilian commuter minibus.

The twin bombings, an hour apart on the same road south of Mogadishu, both targeted AMISOM personnel.

“We are behind the two car bombs driven by mujahedeen,” Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab, head of al-Shabab’s military operations, told Reuters. Al-Shabab claimed four Americans and one South American were killed in the attack, Reuters reported, however the claim couldn’t be verified.

A regional governor, Adukadir Mohammed Sidi, who was reportedly being escorted by the convoy, told news agencies that 12 people in the minibus were killed in the first blast.

Al-Shabab’s future is unclear after the death of its leader, Ahmed Abdi Godane, who took power in 2008, and lately had many rival commanders killed. Godane died in a U.S. airstrike Sept. 1.
Godane’s successor was chosen swiftly, amid speculation that his death could lead to a power struggle within the organization. This weekend, al-Shabab warned of attacks to avenge Godane’s killing.

New leader Abu Ubeid Ahmed Omar, also known as Ahmed Umar Diriye, comes from a small circle of close Godane loyalists, and is a former al-Shabab regional leader in southern Somalia. Stig Jarle Hansen, author of a 2013 book on al-Shabab said the new leader “has a reputation for being efficient. He is a safe choice, well-respected in al-Shabab.”

Hansen said it was rumored Godane appointed his successor through a last will, made before his death.

“The speed was surprisingly swift and impressive. I think this was an attempt to avoid a leadership wrangle that would have been serious for the organization,” he said.

However Hansen said it wasn’t immediately clear whether subcommanders from other regions would accept the choice.

The attack Monday came as Human Rights Watch released a report on sexual abuse of Somalia civilians by AMISOM soldiers, documenting the cases of 21 women and girls who claim to have been raped or sexually exploited by Burundian and Ugandan soldiers when they approached an AMISOM base seeking medical help or food. One case involved a 12-year-old girl.

AFP Photo

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Defense Says Pistorius Was In A Vulnerable State When He Fired

Defense Says Pistorius Was In A Vulnerable State When He Fired

By Robyn Dixon, Los Angeles Times

PRETORIA, South Africa — South African Olympian Oscar Pistorius should never have been charged with murder, but at most negligent killing, his lawyer Barry Roux told Pretoria’s High Court Friday.

Pistorius fatally shot his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, who locked herself in the toilet off his bathroom in February last year. Pistorius fired four expanding bullets, designed to cause maximum tissue damage, through the door, killing Steenkamp, but he claims he mistook her for a burglar and never intended to fire the gun or kill anyone.

The state case is that he shot her after an argument — but the prosecution argues that even if he foresaw firing four bullets into the cubicle would kill a burglar, he’s still guilty of murder.

Roux said Pistorius was argumentative as a witness — and should not have been — but said he was anxious because the prosecutor, Gerrie Nel, had originally accused him of putting on his artificial legs to fire the shots.

“Was he argumentative? Yes my lady. Should he have been? Absolutely not but he was apprehensive,” Roux said. He said there were “two Oscars”: The athlete’s powerful, confident exterior concealed a deeply anxious individual.

Roux conceded that Pistorius, who has pleaded guilty to charges of reckless use of a firearm, was negligent in handling a gun in a restaurant named Tashas, which went off in his hands, and suggested the Glock pistol may have been faulty.

Judge Thokozile Masipa chimed in that Pistorius asked to handle the gun.

Roux said the court had to decide whether Pistorius acted unconsciously, based on the athlete’s assertion he never intended to pull the trigger — or whether he acted reflexively but partly consciously.

He said the shot happened as the highly anxious Pistorius stood at the bathroom door, loaded gun in hand, knowing he might have to shoot.

“Now you’re standing at the door, you’re vulnerable, you have the effects of a slow burn over many years. You’re anxious. You’re trained as an athlete to react to sound. He stands now with his trigger ready to fire if necessary,” Roux said, bringing his hand down on his lectern with a dramatic bang.

He said some people would pull a trigger, startled by a sound, and others might not. Roux added that sports medicine doctor Wayne Derman, who argued that Pistorius pulled the trigger in response to being suddenly startled, was a highly credible witness.

Roux referred obliquely to South African cases where battered women successfully argued temporary insanity when, flooded with emotions, they snapped and killed their partners after years of abuse.

For Pistorius, there was a similar “slow burn” he said, which came from years knowing that he could never run away from a fight.

“You’re a little boy, you experience daily that you cannot run away. You do not have a flight response. Over time you get an exaggerated fight response. That’s the slow burn. That constant reminder, I do not have legs, I cannot run away. I am not the same,” Roux said.

He said this explained why Pistorius approached the noise he says he heard in the bathroom with a loaded gun, rather than retreating.

Pistorius testified he shot when he heard a noise from the toilet that made him think someone was coming out to attack him, although the door didn’t open.

“When he heard that sound in his vulnerable state,” asked Roux, “was that shot reflexive alone, or was it a reflexive shot combined with a cognitive process?”

If it was just a reflexive shot, it meant that Pistorius lacked criminal capacity at the time he fired, Roux said. (Temporary criminal incapacity is recognized by South African courts and means an accused was temporarily insane when he or she acted — but it is rarely successful.)

But Roux argued that if the court found Pistorius was consciously thinking when he fired, then it must examine the athlete’s thought process, as he sought to defend himself.

Summing up the defense case, Roux spent much of the day attempting to raise reasonable doubt about the prosecution’s contention that Pistorius killed Steenkamp after a row. He said the What’s App message that Steenkamp sent Pistorius saying he sometimes scared her, came amid many other loving messages.

Roux laid out a detailed timeline, designed to discredit the state’s case that the gun was fired at 3:17 a.m. The defense said the shots happened before 3:15 a.m. and that the sound of bangs at 3:17 a.m. was Pistorius breaking down the toilet door with a cricket bat to get Steenkamp. Neighbors reported hearing a woman screaming before 3:17 a.m.

Roux argued this was Pistorius screaming. The state’s main pathology witness said it would have been impossible for Steenkamp to scream after she was shot.

“Now the state must make the second sounds the gunshots, and ignore the first sounds and the cricket bat,” Roux said. He said the evidence of most of the witnesses supported Pistorius’ version, but spent some time attacking the credibility of anesthetist Dr. Johan Stipp, who testified he heard a woman screaming, intermingled with the sound of a man’s voice.

Roux said Stipp’s evidence “was not only unreliable but untruthful. He so desperately wanted to assist the state.”

AFP Photo/Alon Skuy

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Nigerian Doctor Stricken With Ebola

Nigerian Doctor Stricken With Ebola

By Robyn Dixon, Los Angeles Times

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — A doctor who treated an Ebola-stricken Liberian has fallen ill with the disease, the first confirmed domestic case in the megacity of Lagos, Nigeria, authorities said Monday.

Nigerian Health Minister Onyebuchi Chukwu said the doctor had been treating Liberian Patrick Sawyer, 40, who flew to Lagos from Liberia on July 20 and fell ill while on the plane. He collapsed at the airport, was taken to a hospital and died in quarantine five days later.

An additional eight Nigerians are hospitalized under quarantine with suspected Ebola, and 61 more are under observation.

Six of those now in quarantine were initially placed under observation in the community, but were hospitalized over the weekend after exhibiting symptoms that may be those of Ebola.

There are fears Ebola could spread quickly throughout Nigeria if it takes hold in Lagos, one of the continent’s most crowded cities.

Ebola was first reported in the West African nation of Guinea in February, and swiftly spread to neighboring Sierra Leone and Liberia.

More than 1,300 people have been infected and about 730 have died, according to World Health Organization figures released last week.

Of the fatal cases, at least 60 are doctors, nurses, and health workers.

AFP Photo/Zoom Dosso

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U.S., Foreign Health Workers To Flock To West Africa Amid Ebola Crisis

U.S., Foreign Health Workers To Flock To West Africa Amid Ebola Crisis

By Robyn Dixon, Los Angeles Times

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — With dozens of local doctors and medical staff among the dead, U.S. and foreign experts are preparing to flood into West Africa to help fight the deadliest Ebola outbreak on record.

Although two Americans, Dr. Kent Brantly and health worker Nancy Writebol, have contracted the disease, health experts say foreigners taking careful precautions should not be at serious risk.

But more than 60 local medical staff, about 8 percent of the fatalities, have died in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea — poor countries with weak, overloaded health care systems that are ill-equipped to handle the outbreak.

Ebola expert G. Richards Olds, dean of medicine at the University of California, Riverside, compared local health care workers there to doctors who donned beaked masks, leather boots, and long, waxed gowns to fight the plague in Medieval Europe.

“This is one of the few cases in modern times of true health care heroism,” Olds said. “They’re taking some signficant risks, as you can see, to help others.”

Among the dead are Liberia’s Dr. Samuel Brisbane, and Dr. Sheikh Umar Khan, a top Sierra Leone doctor who treated dozens of patients. Khan was described as a national hero by his country’s health ministry. Three nurses working with him died the same week he perished.

Dr. Tom Frieden, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Sunday the United States plans to send 50 public health officials to West Africa in the next 30 days to help fight the disease.

He said Brantly, who arrived in the United States on Saturday and is undergoing treatment, appears to be getting better. Writebol is expected to arrive in the United States later this week. Both contracted the disease in Liberia.

The World Health Organization said Friday it planned to fly hundreds more medical staff into West Africa to stem the spread of the disease and trace those who had contact with infected people.

Dubai-based airline Emirates, the Mideast’s largest carrier, said Sunday that it halted flights to Guinea because of concerns about the spread of the Ebola virus, which has killed more than 700 people since March.

The protective gear required to confront the disease consists of rubber boots, medical scrubs, two pairs of rubber gloves, a waterproof, airtight yellow suit, a rubber apron, a rubber bib, a rubber hood and a mask. It is a suffocatingly hot outfit in West Africa’s tropical heat.

There’s a complex five-minute procedure to put the gear on, take it off, and determine whether gowns can be reused. One mistake can be fatal.

Medical hygienists, who clean up after patients and dispose of fluids including blood, vomit, and diarrhea, are the most at risk.

Olds said Ebola is less infectious than SARS, the airborne disease that spread from Asia around the world in 2003, but it is far more deadly.

Although Ebola is highly infectious, it’s not transmitted by air, and when a doctor or nurse sickens, it usually means something has gone wrong in the complex process of robing and de-robing.

In West African public hospitals, some staff are working 12-hour shifts. Whether it’s heat (the temperature inside suits can rise to more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit), long hours, exhaustion, lack of staff, or lack of training, fatal mistakes have been made.

Health workers from organizations such as Doctors Without Borders and other relief agencies also do outreach work in West African communities, to try to persuade frightened people infected with the virus to come to treatment facilities. Most of the outreach work is done without protective clothing or masks.

Medical staff do not approach closer than two yards when assessing sick people. If they have to enter a house to see an ill person who can’t move, they don their gowns and protective layers.

Doctors Without Borders nurse Monia Sayah, who returned home to the United States recently after months working in Guinea treating patients, said she felt safe in her protective medical clothing, despite the fact many doctors and health staff had sickened and died.

Doctors Without Borders has never had an Ebola fatality.

“We have very strict measures to avoid infection. We use a set of behaviors. It’s very important the way we dress up and the way you dress down. We use a buddy system to make sure you don’t make a mistake when you are putting on or taking off the gown,” Sayah said.

Doctors Without Borders was also meticulous about minimizing the use of sharp objects in the treatment centers.

Use of intravenous needles was only used when absolutely necessary. Patients weren’t given knives and forks to cut their food. Instead the food was cut up for them outside the isolation unit.

Chlorine, among other disinfectants, was used in the treatment facilities to sanitize boots, clothing, and other items, Sayah said.

Frieden said Sunday that Americans should not fear Ebola taking hold in the United States.

“Any U.S. hospital following CDC’s infection control recommendations can safely manage a patient w/ Ebole hemorrhagic fever,” he said on Twitter.

Doctors Without Borders has been “caring for patients with Ebola in rudimentary facilities in Africa and has never had one of their health workers infected,” he said, adding that meticulous procedures prevented the virus from spreading.

Staff writer Lauren Raab in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

AFP Photo/Zoom Dosso

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What Was Oscar Pistorius Thinking When He Fired The Gun?

What Was Oscar Pistorius Thinking When He Fired The Gun?

By Robyn Dixon, Los Angeles Times

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — What was Oscar Pistorius thinking?

For all the minute testimony in the South African athlete’s murder trial — about dents in a door made by a cricket bat, positions of curtains, power cords, and duvets in his bedroom, the forensics of bullet wounds — Pistorius’ fate will largely be decided on how a judge views his state of mind.

Is he a volatile troublemaker who intended to kill his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp? Or was he a victim of extraordinary misfortune firing at a presumed intruder?

Pistorius, the first double amputee to compete in the Olympics, has said he thought a burglar had barricaded himself in a toilet cubicle, and fired four shots through the door, killing Steenkamp in the early hours of Valentine’s Day last year.

Judge Thokozile Masipa will hear final arguments Thursday, then resort to a complicated body of law. The simplest verdict would be to agree with the prosecution that Pistorius intentionally shot his girlfriend while in a rage after an argument — making it murder.

But under South African law, firing with intent to kill can be ruled murder even if the defendant was mistaken about his target.

Masipa also could consider “culpable homicide,” a criminal but unintentional killing in which Pistorius, a trained gun expert, did not foresee the consequences of firing Black Talon expanding bullets through a door and into the small cubicle.

A similar defense did not help hip-hop star Molemo “Jub Jub” Maarohanye. A judge in his case ruled that he must have foreseen that drag racing on a crowded street near a school could kill people. Four boys died and two others were left with brain damage when his car struck them. He was convicted of murder.

Pistorius’ advocate, Barry Roux, has aired several different defenses, each mutually exclusive, leaving even legal experts confused — and intrigued.

Although the circumstances of the case preclude a claim of self-defense under South African law, Pistorius could claim “putative private defense” — that he believed he was acting lawfully and reacting reasonably to a perceived threat to his life.

Most experts thought Roux had that defense in mind, until Pistorius took the stand. Many experts regarded Pistorius as a poor witness because of contradictions and inconsistencies under cross-examination. His story didn’t jibe with crime scene photographs showing the position of objects in the bedroom, including a fan and duvet.

Pistorius told the court he was so terrified that he acted unconsciously: He didn’t aim at the door, didn’t consciously pull the trigger, and never thought he would kill anyone. Believing there was a burglar in the home, he armed himself, and moved toward the door — all the time knowing exactly what he was doing. Yet, at the moment he pulled the trigger, intentional, conscious action evaporated, Pistorius testified.

“Before I knew it, I had fired four shots at the door,” Pistorius told the court.

Roux could use self-defense or several other arguments in framing his final argument on Pistorius’ behalf.

To convict Pistorius, “You need to be convinced that there’s no reasonable possibility that he could have been lingering under the mistake that there was an intruder in the house and that he had to kill this intruder,” said James Grant, a criminal law expert at Witwatersrand University.

Despite the apparent weight of evidence against him, Pistorius’ state of mind is “all important,” said Grant. “That’s why it’s so difficult to call.”

Pistorius’ final defense witness, sports medicine expert Wayne Derman, told the court that extreme anxiety and a diminished ability to defend himself left Pistorius with a hair-trigger startle reflex. His testimony raised a potentially precedent-setting question for South Africa, according to legal analysts: Did being disabled and unable to flee leave Pistorius so vulnerable and terrified that he lost control of his actions, and unintentionally pulled the trigger?

Derman testified that the startle responses of disabled athletes were exaggerated, compared with those of non-disabled people. Because Pistorius couldn’t flee, he had to confront danger, an option that may not have been reasonable for an able-bodied person who could have run away, Derman testified.

Legal analysts said it was the first time a South African court has been confronted with a defense of unconscious, involuntary action, based on an exaggerated startle response due to disability. Courts have tended to dismiss such a defense except in extraordinary cases involving sleep walking or epilepsy.

One more long shot defense is available, however. South African law recognizes temporary insanity (technically known as temporary non-pathological criminal incapacity) in cases in which a killer is so emotionally overwhelmed by terror, rage, or other emotions that he briefly loses control and acts unconsciously and involuntarily.

“The evidence of Derman is very much along the lines that his startle response made it impossible for him to understand that he was doing wrong or to control himself,” Grant said.

The last South African who tried the temporary insanity defense failed. Graeme Eadie, who beat a motorist to death with a hockey stick after the driver tailgated him at night, flashed his headlights, overtook and cut him off, argued that marital, financial, and work stress provoked his temporary non-pathological criminal incapacity. Eadie lost the case, and an appeal.

David Dadic, an attorney and criminal law expert, said the defense made a strong case Pistorius was extremely fearful and vulnerable. But the court might conclude that many other people have been similarly fearful, but did not react the same way, he added.

“I think the court will be wary of the precedent,” Dadic said. “We can’t create a precedent in this country where you can go and shoot down bathroom doors because you are scared.”

AFP Photo/Alon Skuy

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Islamist Militants Kidnap Wife Of Cameroonian Official

Islamist Militants Kidnap Wife Of Cameroonian Official

By Robyn Dixon, Los Angeles Times

JOHANNESBURG — Islamist militants believed to be associated with the Nigerian terrorist group Boko Haram kidnapped the wife of a Cameroonian vice prime minister Sunday, in a worrying sign that the violence in northeastern Nigeria is spreading beyond its borders.

Militants mounted an attack on the village of Kolofata and killed three people according to Cameroonian officials, Reuters reported.

The gunmen also abducted a traditional leader and his family in an early morning raid on the community near the Nigerian border, following attacks in recent days that left several Cameroonian soldiers dead.

News agencies reported the gunmen seized the wife of Vice Prime Minister Amadou Ali while Ali managed to flee, Cameroonian officials said.

The attacks occurred just across the border from Gwoza, where extremists have mounted many Nigerian attacks since last year.

The militants have been active in the region for some time, carrying out attacks in Nigeria and sometimes fleeing into Cameroon. Last year, Boko Haram or a related group kidnapped a French family of seven, who were later released.

Others abducted last year and later freed include a Canadian nun, a French priest, and two Italian priests. Ten Chinese construction workers kidnapped in Cameroon in May remain in captivity.
Tens of thousands of northern Nigerians have fled into Cameroon in the last year.

But militants suspected of being with Boko Haram or a similar group have in recent days launched attacks in Cameroonian villages. Cameroon has deployed soldiers along the border but there has been little regional cooperation between Cameroonian and Nigerian forces until recently. Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, and Niger agreed to set up a regional force of nearly 3,000 men to confront Boko Haram and other Islamist militant groups.

In northern Nigeria’s biggest city, Kano, an attack on a church Sunday by unknown assailants left five people dead and others wounded. No group immediately claimed responsibility.

Boko Haram, which opposes secular education, Western culture and democracy, is staging an insurgency in northern Nigeria in an attempt to establish an Islamist state. The group is still holding around 219 Nigerian schoolgirls abducted in April.

AFP Photo

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