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Journey of a Jihadist from a Herdsman to killing of US Soldiers in Niger

Niger still in search of Duonduo Chefou

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Niger
A Fulani cattle herder walks with his cows outside the city of Tillaberi, southwest Niger, about 100 km south of the Mali border, Niger, Nov. 1, 2017.
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When Doundou Chefou first took up arms as a youth a decade ago, it was for the same reason as many other ethnic Fulani herders along the Niger-Mali border: to protect his livestock.

He had nothing against the Republic of Niger, let alone the United States of America. His quarrel was with rival Tuareg cattle raiders.

Yet on Oct. 4 this year, he led dozens of militants allied to Islamic State in a deadly assault against allied U.S.-Niger forces, killing four soldiers from each nation and demonstrating how dangerous the West’s mission in the Sahel has become.

The incident sparked calls in Washington for public hearings into the presence of U.S. troops. A Pentagon probe is to be completed in January.

Who is Doundou Chefou?

Niger Defense Minister Kalla Mountari
Niger Defense Minister Kalla Mountari poses for a portrait after an interview with Reuters, in Niamey, Niger Nov. 1, 2017.

Niger Defense Minister Kalla Mountari poses for a portrait after an interview with Reuters, in Niamey, Niger Nov. 1, 2017.

Asked by Reuters to talk about Chefou, Nigerien Defense Minister Kalla Mountari’s face fell.

“He is a terrorist, a bandit, someone who intends to harm to Niger,” he said at his office in the Nigerien capital Niamey earlier this month.

“We are tracking him, we are seeking him out, and if he ever sets foot in Niger again he will be neutralized.”

Like most gunmen in so-called Islamic State in the Greater Sahara, which operates along the sand-swept borderlands where Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso meet, Chefou used to be an ordinary Fulani pastoralist with little interest in jihad, several government sources with knowledge of the matter said.

The transition of Chefou and men like him from vigilantes protecting their cows to jihadists capable of carrying out complex attacks is a story Western powers would do well to heed, as their pursuit of violent extremism in West Africa becomes ever more enmeshed in long-standing ethnic and clan conflicts.

For now, analysts say the local IS affiliate remains small, at fewer than 80 fighters. But that was also the case at first with al-Qaida-linked factions before they tapped into local grievances to expand their influence in Mali in 2012.

The United Nations this week released a report showing how IS in northern Somalia has grown to around 200 fighters from just a few dozen last year.

The U.S. military has ramped up its presence in Niger, and other neighboring countries, in recent years as it fears poverty, corruption and weak states mean the region is ripe for the spread of extremist groups.

A map of Niger with the capital city, Niamey, highlighted.
Niger
A map of Niger with the capital city, Niamey, highlighted.

Genesis of a jihad

For centuries the Tuareg and Fulani have lived as nomads herding animals and trading — Tuareg mostly across the dunes and oases of the Sahara, and the Fulani mostly in the Sahel, a vast band of semi-arid scrubland that stretches from Senegal to Sudan beneath it.

Some have managed to become relatively wealthy, accumulating vast herds. But they have always stayed separate from the modern nation-states that have formed around them.

Though they largely lived peacefully side-by-side, arguments occasionally flared, usually over scarce watering points. A steady increase in the availability of automatic weapons over the years has made the rivalry ever more deadly.

A turning point was the Western-backed ouster of Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi in 2011. With his demise, many Tuareg from the region who had fought as mercenaries for Gadhafi returned home, bringing with them the contents of Libya’s looted armories.

Some of the returnees launched a rebellion in Mali to try to create a breakaway Tuareg state in the desert north, a movement that was soon hijacked by al-Qaida-linked jihadists who had been operating in Mali for years.

Until then, Islamists in Mali had been recruiting and raising funds through kidnapping. In 2012, they swept across northern Mali, seizing key towns and prompting a French intervention that pushed them back in 2013.

Turning point in 2013

Boubacar Diallo, President f the livestock breeders association of north Tillaberi
Boubacar Diallo, president of the livestock breeders association of north Tillaberi on the Mali border, goes through a list of more than 300 Fulani herders killed by Tuareg raiders in the lawless region, during an interview with Reuters in Niamey, Niger.

Boubacar Diallo, president of the livestock breeders association of north Tillaberi on the Mali border, goes through a list of more than 300 Fulani herders killed by Tuareg raiders in the lawless region, during an interview with Reuters in Niamey, Niger,

Amid the violence and chaos, some of the Tuareg turned their guns on their rivals from other ethnic groups like the Fulani, who then went to the Islamists for arms and training.

In November 2013, a young Nigerien Fulani had a row with a Tuareg chief over money. The old man thrashed him and chased him away, recalls Boubacar Diallo, head of an association for Fulani livestock breeders along the Mali border, who now lives in Niamey.

The youth came back armed with an AK-47, killed the chief and wounded his wife, then fled. The victim happened to be the uncle of a powerful Malian warlord.

Over the next week, heavily armed Tuareg slaughtered 46 Fulani in revenge attacks along the Mali-Niger border.

The incident was bloodiest attack on record in the area, said Diallo, who has documented dozens of attacks by Tuareg raiders that have killed hundreds of people and led to thousands of cows and hundreds of camels being stolen.

“That was a point when the Fulani in that area realized they needed more weapons to defend themselves,” said Diallo, who has represented them in talks aimed at easing communal tensions.

The crimes were almost never investigated by police, admits a Niamey-based law enforcement official with knowledge of them.

“The Tuareg were armed and were pillaging the Fulani’s cattle,” Niger Interior Minister Mohamed Bazoum told Reuters. “The Fulani felt obliged to arm themselves.”

‘Injustice, exclusion and self-defense’

Gandou Zakaria, a researcher of mixed Tuareg-Fulani heritage in the faculty of law at Niamey University, has spent years studying why youths turned to jihad.

“Religious belief was at the bottom of their list of concerns,” he told Reuters. Instead, local grievances were the main driving force.

Whereas Tuareg in Mali and Niger have dreamed of and sometimes fought for an independent state, Fulani have generally been more pre-occupied by concerns over the security of their community and the herds they depend on.

“For the Fulani, it was a sense of injustice, of exclusion, of discrimination, and a need for self-defense,” Zakaria said.

One militant who proved particularly good at tapping into this dissatisfaction was Adnan Abu Walid al-Sahrawi, an Arabic-speaking north African, several law enforcement sources said.

Al-Sahrawi recruited dozens of Fulani into the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA), which was loosely allied to al-Qaida in the region and controlled Gao and the area to the Niger border in 2012.

After French forces in 2013 scattered Islamists from the Malian towns they controlled, al-Sahrawi was briefly allied with Mokhtar Belmokhtar, an al-Qaida veteran.

Today, al-Sahrawi is the face of Islamic State in the region.

“There was something in his discourse that spoke to the youth, that appealed to their sense of injustice,” a Niger government official said of al-Sahrawi.

Two diplomatic sources said there are signs al-Sahrawi has received financial backing from IS central in Iraq and Syria.

Enter Chefou

How Chefou ended up being one of a handful of al-Sahrawi’s lieutenants is unclear. The government source said he was brought to him by a senior officer, also Fulani, known as Petit Chapori.

Like many Fulani youth toughened by life on the Sahel, Chefou was often in and out of jail for possession of weapons or involvement in localized violence that ended in deals struck between communities, the government official said.

Yet Diallo, who met Chefou several times, said he was “very calm, very gentle. I was surprised when he became a militia leader.”

U.S. and Nigerien sources differ on the nature of the fatal mission of Oct 4. Nigeriens say it was to go after Chefou; U.S. officials say it was reconnaissance mission.

One vehicle lost by the U.S. forces was supplied by the CIA and kitted with surveillance equipment, U.S. media reported. A surveillance drone monitored the battle with a live feed.

The Fulani men, mounted on motorbikes, were armed with the assault rifles they first acquired to look after their cows. (VOA)

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Clerics help Pakistan pedophiles target minor Hindu, Christian girls

In a span of three years, Mian Mithoo reportedly has converted 150 girls to Islam but he insists that all the conversions are voluntary, never forced.

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Mumbai’s  Islamic televangelist Zakir Naik, president of the Islamic Research Foundation in India has defended the practice of sexual slavery. Wikimedia Commons
Mumbai’s  Islamic televangelist Zakir Naik, president of the Islamic Research Foundation in India has defended the practice of sexual slavery. Wikimedia Commons

By Ahmar Mustikhan

Pakistan pedophiles, who believe having sex with minors enhances their sexual prowess and stamina, routinely abduct minor Hindu and Christian girls, have sex and convert the girls to Islam and marry them, all within 24 hours.

Muslim clerics in the length and breadth of Pakistan aid the culprits while the parents of the victim girls have no avenue to seek justice. The rapidity with which the entire process happens shows the conversions are well orchestrated and enjoy state blessings as the culprits go scot-free.

“Is there any single day empty, when Hindu girl would not be abducted and converted? A 13-year-old girl kidnapped from Shahpur Chaker and got married to 52 year-old-man at Bharchundi Dargha,” said Hindu agriculture engineer Raj Kumar Tuesday in a Facebook post. “Descendants of Mohammed bin Qasim are to this day treating Hindu girls as if they were a war booty,” he quipped on Facebook. Qasim was a young Saudi general from Taif who attacked and defeated ruler of Sindh, Raja Dahir, in the Eighth Century.

Parents of a 13-year-old Hindu who was abducted from Shahpur Chakar and married to a 52-year-old man who already has five kids. Pir Faqeer Andul Khaliq aka Mian Mithoo of Bharchundi Sharif aided the forced conversion
Parents of a 13-year-old Hindu who was abducted from Shahpur Chakar and married to a 52-year-old man who already has five kids. Pir Faqeer Andul Khaliq aka Mian Mithoo of Bharchundi Sharif aided the forced conversion

“Where is Sindh Government and child marriage law?,” asks Dr. Jaipal Chabbria, who hails from Kandhkot town in Sindh and is the leader of the Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf of former cricketer Imran Khan. “How surprising that a 13 year-old-girl is kidnapped and forcefully married to 52 year-old-person who has already five children. Who will give protection to none Muslims?”

The cleric responsible for the conversion is a former member of the National Assembly and belonged to Pakistan People’s Party when Asif Ali Zardari was president. His name is Pir Faqeer Abdul Khaliq aka Mian Mithoo from Daharki town of district Ghotki, neighboring India’s Rajasthan state.

In a span of three years, Mian Mithoo reportedly has converted 150 girls to Islam but he insists that all the conversions are voluntary, never forced.

Even as Hindus were lamenting the abduction of the 13-year-old girl from Shapur Chaker, another Hindu girl was abducted. “No single day passes without abduction of Hindu girls. One more Sorath, daughter of Heero Meghwar from District Tharparkar has been abducted,” said Hindu rights defender Shankar Meghwar

Asad Chandio, a veteran journalist who has been a leading voice against forced conversions of Hindu girls in Sindh, says Mian Mithoo’s conversion works pale in comparison to an even more dangerous cleric named Pir Ayub Jan Farooqi aka Pir Ayub Jan Sirhandi, who is from Samaro town in Umerkot district.

Also see: Ahmar Mustikhan views on Kulbhushan Yadav’s meeting with his mother and wife

“Farooqi targets Umarkot and Tharparkar, two Sindh districts where even today Hindus form 65 percent of the population. The Hindus there are the poorest among the poor like Bheel, Kohli, and Meghwar,” Chandio, who fled Pakistan after receiving death threats from both religious outfits and Pakistan secret services, said Tuesday from Houston, Texas. “Pir Farooqui has vowed that he will not rest at ease until each and every Hindu in Umarkot and Tharparkar convert to Islam,” he said.

Pir Faqeer Mian Mithoo, aka Abdul Khaliq, a former member of the National Assembly, who once belonged to the Pakistan People’s Party.
Pir Faqeer Mian Mithoo, aka Abdul Khaliq, a former member of the National Assembly, who once belonged to the Pakistan People’s Party.

Pir Farooqui heads the religious seminary called Gulzar-i-Khalil in Samara town where he religiously issues a report card each year on the number of Hindu girls and boys he has converted to Islam.

A report in the New York Times early this year said, 1,000 Christian and Hindu girls, mostly underage, are taken from their families each year, converted to Islam, and married.

The Times report cited Dr. Ramesh Kumar Vankwani of the Pakistan Hindu Council as saying, “So many immature girls, below the age of 18 mostly, have been kidnapped. After 15 days a (certificate of marriage) will be presented in court that the girl has of free will be converted and accepted Islam, and she has now been married.”

In some cases, the matter reaches the court system but the victims are often threatened that if they don’t say they had eloped and converted on their free volition, their entire families will be gunned down. So they tell the judge they converted on their free will. Only in rare cases, does a victim tell the court the truth about their rape.

Sindh journalist Asad Chandio, a leading voice against forced conversions of Hindus, who had to flee Pakistan after receiving death threats from the clerics and Pakistan intelligence services.
Sindh journalist Asad Chandio, a leading voice against forced conversions of Hindus, who had to flee Pakistan after receiving death threats from the clerics and Pakistan intelligence services.

When Pakistan was created by the British Raj, by dividing India, in August 1947, thirteen out of the 53 members of parliament were non-Muslims. Farahnaz Ispahani, a Pakistani scholar and aide to former president Asif Ali Zardari, in a paper titled “Cleansing Pakistan of Minorities”, writes, “At the time of partition in 1947, almost 23 per cent of Pakistan’s population was comprised of non-Muslim citizens.” That population has now gone down to three percent because of the forced conversions and intimidation to non-Muslims.

Hindus have nowhere to go
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan in a report said around 25 Hindu girls are converted to Islam each month—many cases never get reported. In most cases, Hindus have no door to knock for justice as Pakistani judges side with the rapist kidnappers. According to Hindu rights activist Shanker Meghwar, under the Child Marriage Restraint Act, the age for the marriage of a girl is fixed at 18 years and any person contracting  a marriage with a girl under the age of 18 commits an offence, but in the case of Hindu girls the law is silent and so are all human rights activists. “Where should the Hindus go?” Meghwar asks in a Facebook posting. “We don’t know which door to knock; we don’t know before who to cry.”

In seldom cases, a court may pass a verdict in favour of the parents, but those orders go unimplemented, Hindu rights in Pakistan say. “Our community can bear looting and the kidnapping of our men, but the abduction of our daughters and wives is too painful,” Bhagwan Das, who holds a National Assembly seat reserved for minorities, told Al Jazeera news. “Unfortunately, the frequency of these crimes is increasing due to religious extremism.”

Christians in Punjab

If minor Hindu girls are targets in Sindh, minor Christian girls are sitting ducks for the Muslim men of Punjab province. “Raping and killing the kafirs is justified in their basic Islamic ideology,” said Pakistan Christian Congress (PCC) chief Bhatti, who lives in Philadelphia. He said Punjab, the stronghold of the army, is one of the most dangerous places in the world for Christians, including their females. He adds more than 99 per cent of rape and forced marriage cases, involving Christian females, go unreported in Pakistan.

In one case of rape and abduction of a 12 year old Christian girl in Lahore, the militant organisation Lashkar-i-Taiba or “Army of the Pure,” whose main target is India, produced a nikahnama or marriage certificate, claiming that the minor girl was married to one of their members, according to the Christian Freedom International. The non-profit Movement for Solidarity and Peace, MSP, says every year between 100 to 700 Christian women, “usually between the ages of 12 and 25 are abducted, converted to Islam, and married to the abductor or third party.”

Dr Nazir Bhatti, president of the Pakistan Christian Congress, says Pakistan is one of the most dangerous countries for Christians where forced conversion and rape of Christian girls is taking place with impunity.
Dr Nazir Bhatti, president of the Pakistan Christian Congress, says Pakistan is one of the most dangerous countries for Christians where forced conversion and rape of Christian girls is taking place with impunity.

In its investigative report “Forced Marriages & Forced Conversions in the Christian Community of Pakistan” the MSP notes that after abduction, these Christian women are subjected to “sexual violence, rape, forced prostitution, human trafficking and sale, or other domestic abuse” but in court, when asked to testify before the judge, these victims give a statement in favour of their captors out of fear.

PCC’s Bhatti said these hapless girls are threatened that since they have recited the kalima, Muslim declaration of belief in Allah and Muhammad, and embraced Islam now if they dare say they are Christians they will be killed for blasphemy and apostasy.

Islam and sex with minors, sex slaves

Apparently, Pakistan pedophiles have Islamic history on their side. After ISIS fighters overran Yazidi villages in Iraq’s Sinjar region, the USA Today quoted the ISIS as saying, “It is permissible to have intercourse with the female slave who hasn’t reached puberty if she is fit for intercourse; however if she is not fit for intercourse, then it is enough to enjoy her without intercourse.”

Mumbai’s  Islamic televangelist Zakir Naik, president of the Islamic Research Foundation in India, defends the practice of sexual slavery. Zakir Naik, who got 135,000-pound sterling reward from Saudi King Salman, explains at the time of the Prophet Muhammad Muslims were allowed to have sex with captured slave girls and women – the spoils of war – without marriage. “There are many verses in the Quran which say that you can have sex with those who are your wives and what your right-hand possesses,” Naik said on his Peace TVexplaining “right-hand possesses” meant girl and women slaves.

Islamic historians admit during Muhammad’s days, there were quite a few wars or jihad that the Prophet personally launched against the Jews and infidels to spread Islam.  For example, in the Battle of Khaybar, a beautiful Jewish teenager named Safiyya bint Huyay, 17, whose husband and father were slaughtered by Muhammad’s army was captured as a sex slave by a Muslim soldier but the Prophet later took her custody and married her. The Prophet then took Safiyya, his newest bride, to Medina on his camelback.

Since marriages and having sex slaves is recognized in the Quran, men in the “fortress of Islam,” Pakistan, apparently have no qualms when it comes to forcibly abducting, raping and “marrying” minor Hindu and Christian girls even though Pakistan law prohibits marriage of any girl under 18.

Mir Salim Sanai, a Sindhi nationalist activist based in Germany, said victims of forced marriages are not limited to under-age non-Muslims but are also common in the case of minor Muslim girls in Sindh. However, in these latter cases, the girls are not abducted and the parents do consent to their child’ marriage.

(The author is a veteran Baloch journalist. He is also the founder and president of the non-profit American Friends of Balochistan)