The family of a leading Malian opposition figure who was kidnapped days before the country’s parliamentary elections in late March says the government is “moving too slow” in securing his release.
Soumaila Cisse, the runner-up in a 2018 presidential election, was kidnapped by unidentified gunmen on March 25 in Mali’s restive Timbuktu region.
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The 70-year-old’s son, Bocar Cisse, said it was more than five weeks after the kidnapping when the family was contacted by the committee set up to negotiate the politician’s release.
“They say they are negotiating, but when we ask them for more information they don’t tell us anything,” Bocar Cisse said. “We don’t know anything, we don’t know if he is dead or alive,” added the 40-year-old, speaking on behalf of his mother and three brothers.
“Everyone misses him; we are all lost.”
Cisse has been missing since his abduction in late March [File: Annie Risemberg/Reuters]
Two people kidnapped alongside Cisse – who were later released – said they had also not heard from the committee, which was appointed weeks after the abduction, according to documents seen by Al Jazeera.
Speaking from Ivory Coast, Bocar Cisse said his family last heard from this father on the afternoon of March 25 as his two car-convoy left the city of Niafunke, a stronghold for his Union for the Republic and Democracy party (URD), and which lies on the cusp of northern and central Mali.
He was on the campaign trail before the March 29 legislative elections but was venturing into an area which is largely out of bounds to state authorities and where armed groups are known to roam.
As the cars passed through a small forest, masked attackers opened fire, dragged the passengers out, blindfolded them and placed them under a tree. Cisse sustained a hand injury from the shattered car windows, while his bodyguard received a gunshot wound and later died. Six others injured in the shooting were released immediately, while nine people, including Cisse, were abducted.
Over the following days, the kidnapped men were moved between hideouts and slept out in the open. At times, they heard the sound of gunfire but insisted they were not mistreated, according to the two released men whose names have been changed to protect their identities.
“We cannot say where it was exactly because we don’t know that area and our eyes were covered,” Mamadou* told Al Jazeera.
On the morning of March 29, Cisse was led away from the other eight kidnapped men, who were later released. Two days later, the Malian government appointed former Prime Minister Ousmane Maiga to head a “crisis unit” and said in a statement that it was prepared to “make every effort” to secure his release.
‘Nothing has happened’
However, Cisse’s whereabouts are unknown to this day.
“They’ve given us very little news, and we’re not sure that they are in contact with the kidnappers,” Bocar Cisse said.
“We have been expecting him to be free a long time ago. Nothing has happened; the government is moving too slow,” he added.
Kidnap survivors have also been left in the dark. “I have not met this commission, I have never seen them, I have not talked to them,” Mamadou said.
Samba*, who was also abducted, said: “Since we’ve been freed, nobody has contacted us or called to see if everything is OK.”
‘Nothing is happening, the government is moving too slow,’ says Bocar Cisse after more than a month since his father’s kidnapping [File: Courtesy Soumaila Cisse’s family]
According to a government document signed by Prime Minister Boubou Cisse and seen by Al Jazeera, it took until April 21 for the government to appoint staff to the crisis committee, who were mainly bureaucrats and security personnel.
On April 8, the United Nations Security Council called for Cisse’s “swift liberation”, while in an April 22 letter, 42 African intellectuals and politicians said the abduction of such a high-profile figure was “unprecedented and unique” and called for “stronger involvement” from Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita to secure his release.
Mali’s government did not reply to requests for comment. Last week, during a meeting between the G5-Sahel – a regional counterterrorism force – and the European Union, Keita said: “Everything is being done to bring him [Cisse] back home safe and sound”.
Despite the kidnapping, threats of violence and fears over the spread of the coronavirus, Mali’s legislative vote went ahead as planned on March 29, with Cisse winning his seat comfortably in the first round.
Days later, Amadou Oumar Kalossi, the URD mayor of Koumaira – the city Cisse was heading to when he was kidnapped – was abducted while trying to negotiate his release. He is still missing.
Bocar Cisse is left in little doubt that his father and his party have become targets but does not know why. He said his father has no known enemies.
Cisse is a stalwart of Malian politics, having finished as runner-up in three presidential contests, and has received plaudits for peacefully conceding defeat each time.
In recent years, Mali has been facing a worsening security situation. What began as a localised revolt in the country’s north in 2012 soon spread to the centre of the country and then to neighbouring Niger and Burkina Faso.
The conflict has exacerbated ethnic tensions and local grievances over poverty and the absence of the state, giving rise to ethnic militias and bolstering support for armed groups, some of which are linked to al-Qaeda and the ISIL (ISIS) group.
A French military intervention, military campaigns by national armies and one of the UN’s largest peacekeeping forces have failed to stem the violence, which killed 4,000 people in the three countries last year and displaced hundreds of thousands, according to UN figures.
Ibrahim Maiga, a Bamako-based researcher for the Institute for Security Studies, said Cisse’s assailants might have ties to Katiba Macina, a local group linked to al-Qaeda and that the politician would be considered a valuable pawn amid continuing negotiations between the government and senior fighters aimed at finding a settlement to years of conflict.
Without an official claim of responsibility, however, Bocar Cisse was less sure. “They didn’t ask for money, or for prisoners; they didn’t even make a statement saying that it was them.”
Maiga said the silence from the government and captors might be down to strategy. “In this kind of situation, it is maybe wiser to make less noise, to negotiate in discretion. When it becomes publicised, it becomes more difficult to solve,” he told Al Jazeera.
Bocar Cisse said his father’s absence has been made all the more difficult by the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. “When my father is at home, he breaks fast with his family and spends time with them,” he said.
“It’s a different feeling now. We don’t know when this nightmare will end.”
* Name has been changed to protect the person’s identity
Family of slain autistic Palestinian not optimistic over inquiry |NationalTribune.com
The killing of an autistic Palestinian man by two Israeli police officers last week has prompted rare statements of condolence from both Israeli and international officials, but Palestinians have little faith an inquiry will result in any accountability. Iyad Hallaq, 32, was walking to his special needs school in the Old City of Jerusalem, when…
The killing of an autistic Palestinian man by two Israeli police officers last week has prompted rare statements of condolence from both Israeli and international officials, but Palestinians have little faith an inquiry will result in any accountability.
Iyad Hallaq, 32, was walking to his special needs school in the Old City of Jerusalem, when he was called on by the Israeli officers to stop.
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In their official statement, the officers said they suspected Hallaq was carrying a weapon and began chasing him when he panicked and began to run. As Hallaq hid behind a dumpster, just a few metres away from his school, he was shot dead.
The Israeli police’s internal investigations department is probing the incident. According to Israeli daily Haaretz, a source within the investigation said one of the officers – a new recruit armed with an M16 assault rifle – is suspected of continuing to shoot at Hallaq despite being told by his commander to stop.
The same officer said he suspected Hallaq was a “terrorist” because he was wearing gloves, Haaretz added.
Hallaq was diagnosed with low-functioning autism as a child and had trouble communicating with people. According to his father, Khairy Hallaq, his son had the mental capacity of an eight-year-old – and no concept of the dangerous reality of life under occupation around him.
Hallaq was given special documentation by his school, which he had attended for the past six years, that explained his disability so he could prove his condition to Israeli forces, as he was unable to do so himself.
His family members told Israeli media he “wasn’t capable of harming anyone”.
On Sunday, Israeli Minister of Defense Benny Gantz issued a rare apology.
“We are very sorry for this incident,” Gantz said in a government meeting. “I am sure the issue will be investigated quickly, and conclusions will be drawn.”
The same day, the UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, Nickolay Mladenov, also condemned the killing, calling it a “tragedy that should and could have been avoided”.
“The authorities should swiftly investigate and make sure such incidents are not allowed to happen,” Mladenov said.
My heartfelt condolences to the family of #EyadHallaq, an unarmed #Palestinian, shot and killed yesterday in #Jerusalem. A tragedy that should and could have been avoided! The authorities should swiftly investigate and make sure such incidents are not allowed to happen.
— Nickolay E. MLADENOV (@nmladenov) May 31, 2020
But Mansour Abu Wardieh, Hallaq’s cousin, said the family is not optimistic about the police inquiry into the shooting.
“The news of Israeli authorities ordering an investigation into Iyad’s murder means nothing to us,” he told Al Jazeera, speaking from the occupied East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Wadi al-Joz. “We know they’ll twist the facts and we won’t be surprised if they concluded that the officers fired at him out of ‘self-defence’.”
Israeli investigations into the killing of Palestinian civilians are rarely credible, he added.
According to Israeli rights group B’Tselem, over the last decade – April 2011 until May 2020 – Israeli security forces have killed 3,408 Palestinians in the occupied Palestinian territories and within Israel.
Of these cases, only five Israeli security personnel – which includes both military and police – were convicted.
“We don’t have the number of investigations opened into police killings,” B’Tselem media spokesperson Amit Gilutz told Al Jazeera. “But as far as military goes, over this same period investigations into the killings of about 200 Palestinians were opened.”
Hallaq’s funeral on Sunday was attended by thousands of Palestinians, and protests were held in several Palestinian towns within Israel.
His killing came at a time when demonstrations worldwide are held after the killing of George Floyd, an African American man who died last week after a police officer pressed his knee into his neck for nearly nine minutes in the US state of Minnesota.
Palestinians have been quick to draw comparisons between the deaths of Hallaq and Floyd, and posters with “Black Lives Matter” have been spotted at the protests. The irony of Israelis holding a solidarity protest with Floyd in Tel Aviv on Tuesday was not lost on some.
“[The demonstation] blatantly reflects the dissonance that exists within the Zionist community,” Amany Khalifa, a local mobilisation coordinator at Grassroots Jerusalem said.
“It’s amazing how a racial colonial society does not have the capacity to hold itself accountable for policies carried out [against Palestinians and Ethiopian Jews], and at the same time can come out in solidarity with Black Africans against racism and white supremacy.”
The tone-deaf approach was emphasised in a tweet by the US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman.
“We are all saddened by the death of Iyad Al Halak this weekend and extend our deepest condolences to his family and to those who mourn this tragic loss,” he posted on Twitter on Tuesday. “We welcome Israeli officials’ expression of sorrow and commitment to a swift investigation into the incident.”
William Youmans, an assistant professor at the School of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University, called Friedman’s statement “cynical PR on Israel’s behalf”.
“His language avoids assigning blame or even referring to the murder in direct terms,” he told Al Jazeera. “He refers to cold-blooded murder as ‘death’ and a ‘tragic loss’, as if Iyad was killed in a natural disaster.”
Friedman, Youmans added, attempted to legitimise Israel’s self-investigations, which he described as “notoriously toothless when it comes to prosecuting soldiers who murder Palestinians”.
“These sort of mealy-mouthed apologetics have sadly become the standard line for US policymakers giving total impunity to Israel and its military occupation forces.”
“These statements do not change the fait accompli of facilitating Palestinian killing in Jerusalem and Palestine in general,” she said.
Israelis killing Palestinians is a general policy that has existed since the beginning of the occupation, Khalifa explained, where every Palestinian is treated as “suspicious”.
“Iyad was killed for being Palestinian only,” said Khalifa. “It is possible that these statements [by Gantz and Friedman] indicate a calming of public opinion in the case of Iyad, precisely because of his mental health condition, and the clarity of the policy of targeting the Palestinian body.”
Family of Jamal Khashoggi forgives killers of Saudi journalist |NationalTribune.com
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman shook hands with Salah Khashoggi on October 23, 2018 [File/Saudi Press Agency/AP] The son of murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi has released a statement via Twitter forgiving his killers. In the statement, posted on Friday, Salah Khashoggi said his family pardons those who took the reporter’s life in 2018…
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman shook hands with Salah Khashoggi on October 23, 2018 [File/Saudi Press Agency/AP]
The son of murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi has released a statement via Twitter forgiving his killers.
In the statement, posted on Friday, Salah Khashoggi said his family pardons those who took the reporter’s life in 2018 when he visited the Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul.
“In this blessed night of the blessed month (of Ramadan) we remember God’s saying: If a person forgives and makes reconciliation, his reward is due from Allah.”
“Therefore, we the sons of the Martyr Jamal Khashoggi announce that we pardon those who killed our father, seeking reward God almighty” he added.
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Khashoggi was last seen at the Saudi consulate where he had gone to get the necessary documents for his wedding. His body was dismembered and removed from the building and his remains have not been found.
The murder caused a global uproar. Some Western governments, as well as the CIA, said they believed Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) ordered the killing.
— salah khashoggi (@salahkhashoggi) May 21, 2020
Saudi officials say he had no role, although in September 2019 MBS indicated some personal accountability, saying the grisly killing “happened under my watch”.
Saudi Arabia sentenced five people to death and three to jail over Khashoggi’s murder last December. The suspects were put on trial in secretive proceedings in the capital Riyadh.
The trials were condemned by the United Nations and rights groups. UN Special Rapporteur for extrajudicial summary or arbitrary executions Agnes Callamard accused Saudi Arabia of making a “mockery” of justice by allowing the masterminds of the 2018 killing to go free.
However, Salah Khashoggi said of the December verdict: “It has been fair to us and that justice has been achieved.”
Under Islamic law, death sentences in Saudi Arabia can be commuted if the victim’s family pardons the perpetrator, but it is not clear whether that will happen in this case.
Al Jazeera and news agencies
Family of slain Palestinian demands Israel return body for burial
Khan Younis, Gaza – At the al-Naem family home in western Khan Younis, the relatives of 27-year-old Mohammed gathered in shock to grieve over the loss of a father, husband and son. “My son has no match, he was everything to me,” said Mohammed’s mother, Mirvat, 56. “He was kind-hearted, religious and very moral. I can’t imagine him gone.”…
Khan Younis, Gaza – At the al-Naem family home in western Khan Younis, the relatives of 27-year-old Mohammed gathered in shock to grieve over the loss of a father, husband and son.
“My son has no match, he was everything to me,” said Mohammed’s mother, Mirvat, 56. “He was kind-hearted, religious and very moral. I can’t imagine him gone.”
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Mohammed was shot dead on Sunday by the Israeli military, which accused him of planting an explosive device near the Israeli separation fence east of Khan Younis in the besieged Gaza Strip.
A local journalist captured the scenes that followed in a video, widely shared on social media, which showed a group of Palestinian onlookers attempting to retrieve Mohammed’s body when an Israeli military bulldozer approaches.
Gunfire can be heard as the men rush away from the body, which the bulldozer then scoops up after several apparently failed attempts. The body appears to hang from the teeth of the scoop by a piece of clothing as the bulldozer turns and heads towards the fence.
Men trying to collect a body as a bulldozer approaches them, along the Gaza-Israel fence, east of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip [Muthana Al-Najaar/AFP]
‘A great crime’
The images of Mohammed’s lifeless body being carried away by the bulldozer have caused widespread outrage among Palestinians and the family has demanded its swift return for burial.
“Isn’t it horrendous enough that they killed my young man? What they did is a great crime against humanity,” said Mirvat.
“All I want is for them to bring my son back … It’s my right to see him for the last time and bid farewell to him and bury him near me to be able to visit him.”
Mohammed’s wife Hiba, 25, who struggled to speak through tears, described her husband as a kind-hearted, hard-working family man.
“Mohammed was a very kind and very remarkable man. I can’t imagine this happening to him,” she told Al Jazeera. “We’ve been married for a year-and-a-half and he’s been very tender-hearted and sweet to me. Our baby is less than a year old, what did he do to deserve growing up without his father?”
Hiba said Mohammed was an engineer who worked with different companies as he sought to make a living to support his family. She said she would not watch the video.
Palestinian journalist Muthana al-Najjar, 36, said he learned that there had been an incident close to the fence near Khan Younis approximately at 6am local time (04:00 GMT) on Sunday and rushed to the scene with his camera equipment.
“The scene of the incident was horrifying,” he said. “There was an intensive deployment of Israeli soldiers on sand mounds. There was also an Israeli Merkava battle tank standing on a sand mound, live rounds were being shot from the Israeli side,” he said, adding that one person lay prone close to a motorcycle.
A group of onlookers had gathered and made several attempts to recover the body, but faced live fire from the Israeli soldiers, he told Al Jazeera.
“The first rescue attempt was made by four civilian farmers who took a wheelbarrow and tried to approach Mohammed’s body, but the army shot live fire towards them and their attempt to retrieve the body failed,” al-Najjar said.
“More residents of the area came to the incident’s location, and there were loudspeakers calling on people to hasten and attempt to retrieve the bodies before the army comes and steals them as has been the case several times before.”
As more people gathered nearby, al-Najjar said Israeli vehicles, including a military bulldozer, approached the area.
“The bulldozer wasn’t there yet, so four young people managed to reach the body and put the martyr on the wheelbarrow, but he fell off on their way back because of the Israeli fire and their fear of getting shot. They tried to carry him again, but the Israeli soldiers shot one of them, and he was injured so their balance was disturbed, and the martyr fell off again.”
“During the third rescue attempt, the bulldozer entered Gaza with the tank. And for the first time in years, we saw an Israeli bulldozer entering around 70 metres into Gaza,” al-Najjar pointed out.
“As one person managed to get a hold of Mohammed’s body, the bulldozer rushed towards them and used its scoop to hold back the body, while soldiers shot the rescuer in his leg. The shooting continued so people couldn’t approach the body.”
The Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) armed group said that Mohammed was a member of its armed wing. Late on Sunday, it launched more than 20 rockets towards Israel from Gaza in response to his killing.
Overnight, Israel carried out a number of air raids on what it called “terror sites” near Damascus, Syria and Gaza.
The group said that two of its members were killed in Syria.
On Monday, PIJ fired a further volley of rockets and mortars from Gaza. Israel’s military said in a statement that 20 “projectiles” had been fired from Gaza on Monday, 18 of which were intercepted by its air defence systems.
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