Timbuktu Who’s Who

Mokhtar "Marlboro Man" Belmokhtar
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First Published: 12 July 2012. Updated: 8 February 2013

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MNLA (National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad)

MNLA Leadership

The MNLA is a very recent organisation with a very old cause: the Tuareg have been fighting an insurgency against the central power in Mali since the late 1950s and openly fighting since 1963. This incarnation was created in September 2011 with the arrival of ex-soldiers from Libya after the fall of Gaddafi. They would like a separate state from Mali for the Tuareg people, who have lived in the region for centuries. They offer no explanation for their desire to settle down despite being a nomadic race, or for their decision to select part of only one country from the half a dozen where Tuareg originate.

Leaders

Bilal ag Cherif, is primary leader as General Secretary of the MNLA. He studied in Libya.

Mohamed ag Najim, emigrated to Libya after the big drought of 1973 He had a successful military career and ranked as Colonel and Guide to the Libyan army. Today he is the military leader and a driving force of MNLA.

Nina Wallet Intalou

Nina Wallet Intalou (Photo: El Pais / J. Naranjo)

Nina Wallet Intalou described as the « passionaria » of Malian Tuaregs. She is the only woman in the MNLA leadership. Intalou was elected mayor of Kidal in Northern Mali in 1997, but could never carry out her duties because the Islamists refused to recognise a woman as Mayor. She is close to Mohamed ag Najim and is opposed to Ansar Dine and Iyad ag Ghali because of his links to Al Qaeda (AQIM), insisting he can never be pardoned because of the harm he has done to their cause.

Mossa Ag Attaher

Mossa Ag Attaher

Other members include Magdi Ag Bohada, MNLA political bureau member in charge of North Africa relations; Abdallah Al-Taouss, Deputy Chief of Staff; and MNLA Communications Officer Mossa Ag Attaher , and the official representative for ex-pats, Human Rights and Humanitarianism, Ibrahim Ag Mohamed Assaleh.

Worth a mention is Colonel Habi Ag al Sallat [video], who is said to have fled Ansongo along with MNLA VP Mahamadou Djeri Maiga and a few others, after threats from MUJAO and was later reported to be in Niger’s capital, Niamey.  Via our friend Tommy Miles, some info on Moussa Ag Acharatoumane: the original MNA guy from October 2010, who was arrested in Timbuktu (along with Ag Fadil). He was evicted from MNLAmov.net around March 2012. Also, Hassan Ag Mehdi – generally known by his nickname “Jimmy-le-rebele”, who’s joined and left almost every group.

There are occasional press mentions of various MNLA spokesmen and other associates aligned with the movement, such as Acheick Ag Mohamed and Acherif Ag Intakwa on the Toumast Press website. The MNLA has denied claims that it owns heavy armaments from Libya  and is estimated to have 2-3,000 fighters – about the same as the Islamist groups combined.

Abdallah Al-Taouss, Deputy Chief of Staff, MNLA

Colonel Habi Ag al Sallat, Deputy Chief of Staff, MNLA

I originally used this image from a June 2012 youtube video, identifying the man on camera as Abdallah Al-Taouss. But then 27 November 2012, someone sent me a screengrab from an exclusive AlJazeera item which identifies the man, correctly, as Colonel Habi Ag al Sallat. I guess that is one way to boost the numbers.

Members Of The State of Azawad Transitional Council (TCSA)
(as of 15 January 2013)
President Mr. Bilal Ag Cherif
Vice-President Mr. Mahamadou Djeri Maiga
Defence and Military Relations Colonel Mohamed Ag Najim
Interior Security Mr. Sidi Mohamed Ag Saghid
Justice Mr. Ben Bella Assayid
Foreign Affairs Mr. Ibrahim Ag Mohamed Assaleh
Territorial Administration Mr. Alla Ag Elmehdi
Culture, Arts and Tourism Mr. Mahmoud Ag Aghaly
Communication Mr. Mossa Ag Attaher
Health Mr. Abdul karim Ag Matafa
Human Rights Mr. Moussa Ag Acharatoumane
Preaching and Islamic Orientation Mr. Mohamed Ag Moussa
Veterans and Martyrs’ Families Mr. Youssouf Ag Acheickh
Energy and Mines Mr. Ahmed Mohamed Ag Aguidy
Legal Affairs Mr. Mohamed Ag Habaye
Financial Mr. Altanata Ag Ebalagh
Women, Children and Family Mrs. Lalla Wallet Mohamed
Transport and Roads Mr. Ould Sidaghmar Ahwaïssine
Livestock and Farming Mr. Mohamed Ibrahim Ag Ghabdy
Environment Mr. Ag Baye Diknane
Youth and Sports Mr. Salah Mohamed Ahmed Abba
Telecommunications Colonel Assalat Ag Haby
Agriculture and Resources Fish Farms Mr. Seydou Abdoulaye Dicko
National Dress and Costumes Mr. Mohamed Ousmane Ag Mohamedoune
Domains and Public Benefits Colonel Hassan Ag Fagaga
Planning and Statistics Mr. Ambeïry Ag Rhissa
Water Mr. Mohamed Maiga Zeyni Aguissa
Trade Mr. Souleymane Akli Iknane Ag
Social Cohesion and National Reconciliation Mr. Mohamed Ag Intalla
Humanitarian Assistance and Refugees Ms. Nina Wallet Intalou
Economy Mr. Zeid Ag Kiri
Employment and Vocational Training Colonel Mohamed Ag Mohamed Assaleh Rhissa
CTEA Presidency Spokesperson Mr. Hamma Ag Sidahmad

Republican Movement for the Reconstruction of Azawad (MRRA)

Colonel El-Hadj Ag Gamou, who claimed to have deserted the Malian army to join the MNLA but retained his uniform, to “differentiate himself from the likes of ag Ghali”, announced the birth of this militant breakaway movement with 1,000 Songhai, Fula, Arab and Touareg members and 250 military vehicles on 13 May 2012. The goals were to combat Islamic armed groups in northern Mali and to demand political autonomy for Azawad, according to spokesperson Ishaq Ag Housseyni. Colonel Ag Gamou later sought refuge with his men in  Niger.

National Congress of Azawad

A separatist movement which claims to be aligned with the MNLA and led by Abu Bakr al-Ansari, a Touareg from the Kalnassar tribe. Abu Bakr al-Ansari is described in media reports as an analyst and journalist at Le Quotidien who specialises in the ongoing conflict in Mali. He tends to run interference, popping up in the media giving interviews that contradict statements from the MNLA.

Al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb (AQIM)

formerly the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC)

Abdelmalek Droukdel, leader of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), with his fighters in Mali

AQIM was created in September 2006 after the dissolution of the Salafist Group for preaching and Combat (GSPC) which itself evolved out of the Armed Islamic Group of Algeria, (GIA). They are thought to be very well armed and trained in the use of sophisticated weaponry.

Leaders

Abu Musab Abdel Wadoud (a.k.a. Abdelmalek Droukdel) born April 20, 1970. Wadoud earned a university degree in mathematics before joining the insurgency in 1996, and was a regional leader of the GSPC for several years before becoming the group’s commander in 2004.

Abou Zeid

Abdelhamid Abou Zeid

Jamal Akasha, aka Yahya Abu al-Hamam/ Yahia Djouadi/ Abu Ammar/Abu Al Hammam, an Algerian born 1978 in Reghaia, near Algiers, is current senior emir of AQIM, replacing the late Nabil Abu Alqama, another Algerian, senior leader and negotiator for hostage deals (real name Nabil Makhloufi). Leader of the Tarek Ibn Ziyad brigade Abdelhamid Abou Zeid reports to Yahya Abu al-Hamam.  Abou Zeid “The Russian”, real name Mohamed Ghedir, is an Algerian born 12 December 1965 in Touggourt who fought in the ranks of the GSPC, and the main emir in northern Mali.

al-Furqan katiba leader Mohamed Lamine Ould Hacen aka Abdel al Chinguetti

The al-Furqan batallion, a group of mostly Mauritanian and Malian fighters which operates in the region north of Timbuktu along the Mauritanian border, is led by a Mauritanian – Mohamed Lamine Ould Hacen aka Abdel al Chinguetti. Born in Nouakchott in 1981, Ould Hacen graduated in 2006 from ISERI, despite being jailed for over a year for his membership of a jihadist group. He resurfaced as an AQIM spokesman after being released from prison. This group is thought to be holding two of the French hostages abducted from Niger, Thierry Dol and Daniel Larribe.

Sahel Emirs Ould Hacen and ​​Abou Zeid have additional senior-level associates, such as Mauritanian Abu Anis Chinguetti, whose real name is Abderrahmane Tandaghi.

Abou Abdelkarim aka Le Targui (real name Hamada ag-Hama) leads the al-Ansar katiba based near Ain Khalil in the far north-east of Mali. Le Targui is responsible for the 2010 kidnapping and later killing of the elderly French aid worker Michel Germaneau, and for drug trafficking via Colombian cartels in Guinea-Bissau. This group is thought to be holding two of the French hostages abducted from Niger, Pierre Legrand and Marc Ferrer.

Oumar Hamaha, now Islamist group MUJAO  military chief

Oumar Amarha aka Omar Hamaha/Hamha or “Omar Redbeard”, a seasoned AQIM operative, previously involved in the 2008 kidnappings of Western envoys in Niger, and went on to become military commander of MUJAO  (or Ansar Dine, depending which stories you read)..

AQIM’s judicial commission head Abderrahmane Abou Ishak Essoufi (real name Necib Tayeb) is currently detained in Algeria.

Freelancers – Opportunists – Rent-a-Rebel, Inc.

Mokhtar "Marlboro Man" Belmokhtar

Mokhtar “Marlboro Man” Belmokhtar

News in December of his decision to split from AQIM – or being kicked out, depending on source – means a new section needed here just for Mokhtar Belmokhtar, aka Khaled Abou al-Abass, “Bellawar” or “Marlboro Man”, an Algerian born c1972  in picturesque Ghardaia, in the region of m’Zab. He is involved with trafficking of Nigerien migrants and drugs to Europe and, as a member of the GSPC, led the 2005 attack on an outpost in which Mauritanian soldiers suffered heavy losses. He is sometimes credited with pioneering the Sahel franchise of hostage-taking for profit. His on-off relationship with AQIM could be attributed a genuine conflict of interests, a lack of adherence to the Islamic faith or jihad on his part, or simply a ploy to keep people guessing.

December 2012 saw the announcement that Belmokhtar had created a new battalion “Signed in Blood” to complement his existing “Masked” battalion.  Enticing claims emerged in January 2013 that the new katiba includes sympathisers from Western nations, and a few news items have indeed hinted at the presence of Europeans and Russians, while the unit that raided In Amenas gas plant in Algeria included 2 Canadians.

Ansar Dine ‘Defenders of Faith’

Also transliterated Ançar DineAnçar Deen or Ansar al-Din

Ivorian Ahmed El Guedir (L), one of the Ansar Dine “Islamic police”, patrolling the streets of Gao, northern Mali, on July 16, 2012 — Photo by AFP / ISSOUF SANOGO

In the rebel-held areas, this group is the one being reported – and sometimes, misreported – as terrorising Malian people. They have destroyed Islamic sites in Timbuktu, and are rigorously enforcing Sharia law. The group’s members are mainly from Mali, Algeria and Nigeria, with reports of members from further afield arriving to join them, as well as a recruitment campaign said to be targeting local youth and children.

Ansar al-Din leader Iyad ag Ghaly

Iyad ag Ghaly aka Abu al-Fadl, a Malian of the Ifoghas tribe born in 1958 ,and  a “born-again Muslim” who went to Libya at the age of 20 to learn Arabic, and spent years in Ghaddafi’s army before returning to lead a failed rebellion in Mali. In 1991 he signed an agreement with the Malian army which sparked controversy within the MPLA and caused it to split. Ag Ghaly remained the leader of one of the four splinter groups, though he was rumoured to have ties with the Malian government and the Algerian military intelligence. In 2006, he was involved in the Tuareg uprising against the Malian Army. Despite this, in 2007 he was “rehabilitated” as an ambassador to Saudi Arabia, until unsavoury exploits got him kicked out.

In late 2011, ag Ghaly attempted to assume the leadership of the Tuareg Ifoghas tribal group Kel Adagh, but failed. Unable to take a leadership role with the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), ag Ghaly announced the formation of the Islamist Ansar Dine.

Senda Ould Bouamama of Ansar Dine

Sanda Ould Bouamama (see also below: Ansar al Sharia)

Few other names or details of Ansar Dine members are being published, but mediators Cheick ag Wissa (ag Ghali’y right-hand man) and Kidal-based Algabass ag Intalla (now leading the break-away MIA) were interviewed during their trip to Bur­kina Faso for negotiations at the end of June, and AFP produced the photo below. Ag Intallah is said to be friendly with Qatar’s royal family, helping arrange hunting trips in the Sahara for them. There is often mention in news reports of a spokesman: Timbuktu-based Sanda  (Senda / Sindh) Ould Bouamama, once jailed as a threat to security in Mauritania, who talks to media agencies such as Associated Press and Reuters by telephone. Ag Ghaly’s representative in Algeria is named was Mohamed Ag Aharib, reported here as having joined the MIA in the January 2013 split.

The man being credited with overseeing Ansar Dine’s controversial and often brutal adherence to strict Sharia principles in Timbuktu, Mohamed Ag Mossa, was only identified after being named in the new MNLA council line-up (see above) and was almost immediately reported kidnapped, and shortly after claimed to have been arrested by the MNLA. (see 1 and 4 Feb 2013 update below) .

Chief Ansar Dine negotiator Cheick ag Wissa, right, and (former member) Alghabass ag Intalla. Photo: AFP

Islamic Movement of Azawad (MIA)

A break-way group from Ansar Dine which announced on 25 January 2013 it had split from the religious extremist group, pledging to negotiate “a peaceful solution” and an inclusive political settlement to the crisis in Mali. The group indicated it might be willing to fight against its former comrades in arms, and claimed no links to the other two main groups, AQIM and MUJAO. According to the statement, the MIA is entirely made up of Malians, and headed by Alghabass Ag Intalla, an Ansar Dine leader with a lot of local influence in Kidal, who toyed with joining the MNLA at the start of their campaign. Ansar Din leader Iyad Ag Ghaly’s representative in Algeria, Mohamed Ag Aharib, is also reported to have joined the new group.

Movement for United Jihad in West Africa (Mujao)

MUJAO leader Hamada Ould Khaïrou

This group is frequently cited as having taken control of the entire north of Mali from the Tuareg separatists, but in fact the region is dotted with factions. MUJAO members originate from an African division of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb which includes Algerians, Mauritanians, Nigerians, Senegalese and Malians.

They are believed to have gathered 45m Euros from ransoms for kidnapped Westerners, and have returned only 3 of  the 7 Algerian diplomats taken hostage in Gao in April, later claiming to have killed vice-consul, Tahar Touati in September. Algeria refuted their claim for lack of evidence. A later video showed only three of the diplomatic hostages.

Hamada Ould Khairou is recognised as the creator and inspirational leader of the group. Mauritanian authorities claimed to have issued an international arrest warrant for him on 28 December 2011, but there is no record to match on the Interpol Red Notice Wanted List as yet.

Second in command is Mauritanian Abu Qumqum, born 1970 in Nouakchott.

Adnan Abu Walid Sahraoui

Other key members are Algerian Ahmed Al-Talmasi and Malian Sultan Ould Badi, who is defined by Malian authorities as a drug trafficker. A spokesman named Adnan Abu Walid Sahraoui responded in May 2012 to a question from AFP about the European aid workers taken hostage from Tindouf Saharawi camp in Algeria in October 2011, for whom ransom of 30 million Euro was demanded (and 15 million claimed to have been received after their 17 July 2012 release), and the remaining 4 of the 7 Algerian diplomats taken in Gao in April 2012, with a ransom demand of 15 million. Someone identified in the media as Abdoul Hicham was quoted when MUJAO claimed the abduction of Gilberto Rodriguez Leal in November 2012.

In December 2012, MUJAO formed a new batallion “Ansar al-Sunnah” composed mainly of local youth. Meanwhile the “Salah Eddin” group was founded by Sultan Ould Badi. This clique is the ethnic complement to Ansar al-Sunnah, with mainly Arab youth from Tilemsi tribal villages further north of the Gao stronghold. Members of these new groups could very well be the youth that we’ve heard about being recruited and trained over the past several months, and that raises the spectre of child soldiers in active combat.

Ansar al-Sharia

Formed December 2012 by radical followers of Islam in Gao, thought to be controlled by MUJAO’s military chief, Oumar Hamaha. Most leaders are said to belong to the Timbuktu region’s Berabiche tribe, with ties to Ansar Dine’s official spokesman Sanda Ould Bouamama. Ansar al-Sharia is believed to have spread to several countries in the wider region – Tunisia, Morocco, Libya – since it’s original founding in Yemen by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in April 2011. Its creed has been publicised to radical groups by a Mauritanian Salafi preacher, Abu Mondhar al-Chinguetti.

APF (Azawad Popular Front)

Colonel Hassane Ag Fagaga- APF, former MNLA

Colonel Hassane Ag Mehdi – APF, former MNLA

The brainchild of a former army officer and later MNLA security official in Gao, Colonel Hassane Ag Mehdi aka Jimmy le Rebel, the new APF was launched [fr] in early September 2012 from Burkina Faso. This is where several MNLA leaders sought refuge after being driven out of Mali by their former jihadist rebel partners and those MNLA members who left to swell the ranks of the Islamist factions that seized control of the north. The announcement first appeared on Facebook, and from there was picked up by the media. Ag Mehdi claims to have broad grass roots support in the region. He describes the APF as a non-separatist political and military organisation which respects human rights and is open to dialogue with all existing factions through mediation with the UN, ECOWAS and the African Union. The announcement was timed to coincide with a meeting between established groups that took place over two days in the North East of Mali, hosted by local tribal leaders.

FNLA (National Front for the liberation of Azawad)

Azawad Arabs in Mauritania for a conference 3 June 2012

Azawad Arabs in Mauritania for a conference 3 June 2012

Created on 8 April 2012 during the crisis in the north. Comprising Moors and Arabs, they claimed to be pacifist when they formed, and differentiated themselves from the MNLA because they wanted to retain Mali’s territorial integrity. The claim of non-violence was discredited by the presence of armed FNLA fighters in Timbuktu later that month. At the June 2012 Azawadi Arab Conference in N’Beiket Lahouach, Mauritania, their leader surprised delegates by announcing the FNLA’s intention to take up arms again and fight for an independent Azawad, at which point they left. We hear little from them, but  they are assumed to be enmeshed in the complex infrastructure of the illegal trafficking that represents Mali’s massive grey economy.

Leaders

  • Mohamed Lamine Ould Sidatt, an elected leader from the Timbuktu region, is General Secretary.
  • Housseine Khoulam, a lieutenant-colonel of the Malian army who defected, is military chief.

Arab Movement for the Liberation of Azawad

This group represents Arabs in northern Mali and is non-combatant, secular and separatist. Spokespersons include Mohamed Mouloud Ramadhan, Mohamed Lemine Ould Ahmed.

Updates:

NB: The lack of clarity and consistency in reporting from this region makes it difficult to verify news or track the allegiances of the various players and groups with any degree of accuracy.

8 February 2013: A suicide bomber, described as a Tuareg, died after detonating an explosive body belt while approaching a Malian military post in Gao on a motorcycle. One Malian soldier was lightly injured in the explosion. MUJAO is said to have claimed responsibility.

7 February 2013: MUJAO spokesman Abu Walid Sahroui reportedly sent a message to AFP claiming responsibility for 2 landmine explosion incidents (31 Jan and 6 Feb) that killed 6 people in Malian military vehicles on the road between Douentza and Gao, MUJAO’s former stronghold.

5 February 2013: The French Defense Minister claimed that there had been clashes between troops and “residual jihadists” in the vicinity of Gao the day before. Two teenagers armed with a pistol and two grenades were reportedly arrested in Gao market by Malian soldiers on the same day.

4 February 2013: In a phone call with RFI, MNLA External Affairs officer Ibrahim Ag Mohamed Assaleh, claims responsibility for arresting MUJAO member Oumeini Ould Baba Ahmed and Mohamed Moussa Ag Mohamed, identifying him as Ansar Dine, and not acknowledging his role on the MNLA National Transitional Council. Assaleh indicated that MNLA would relay information extracted from the captives to France, which is keen to speak to Mohamed Moussa Ag Mohamed, who we can assume is wanted by the ICC in relation to war crimes committed by Ansar Dine – he is being touted as the “number 3″ in that group, with oversight of the strict Sharia that resulted in flogging, amputation, and lapidation punishments. Both were allegedly captured during clashes. This does not tie in well with Assaleh’s claim in the same interview that the MNLA have been non-combatant since April 2012.

There are several alternative possibilities in this situation: there may be two religious experts in Mali both called (Mohamed) Ag Moussa Mohamed; MNLA’s official website might have been hacked or infiltrated and a false list of members posted, including Moussa Ag Mohamed as officer for Preaching and Islamic Orientation;  MNLA might not have been responsible for one or both “arrests”; etc.

Also noteworthy: Ansar Dine claims to have arrested two people who were spying for “foreign interests” last week, and the source said that the search continues for a third suspect.

3 February 2013: Aerial bombardment of Kidal and Tessalit areas by French forces reported overnight. This follows reports of kidnappings and near-misses with French special forces near the Algeria border. It is possible that at least some of the foreign hostages are being held in this remote area, as the mountainous Ifoghas region is a known location for hideouts.

Unconfirmed report of executions of Arab citizens in Timbuktu by Malian army, including conflicting reports about the fate of Mohamed Lemine Ould Hamadi.

Voice of Russia published a “dialogue” with National Congress of Azawad President Abu Bakr al-Ansari, in which he avoided answering both questions, further cementing my opinion that he is a timewasting bit-player.

1 February 2013: Mety ag-Mohamed Rissa, former MPA spokesman in Bamako, member of the Commission for monitoring the National Pact,  gave a candid and interesting interview [fr] about his long time comrade and friend, Ansar Dine leader Iyad ag-Ghaly, to Rue89.

Newly-appointed MNLA head of Preaching and Islamic Orientation, Mohamed Moussa Ag Mohamed, reported kidnapped by armed men in In Khalil village near Mali’s border with Algeria.

31 January 2013: Transcript of a phone interview Andy Morgan was invited to hold with MIA leader Alghabass ag Intgalla, who clearly did not get the 30 Jan MNLA memo.

30 January 2013:  MNLA issued a statement (in French – they have not posted any news in Arabic since December) clarifying that only their men and French troops are in Kidal, and denying any association with MIA.

29 January 2013: More than 10 Salafi Muslims have been arrested in Mauritania over the past few days, on charges of seeking to join or support terrorist groups operating in Mali. One Mauritanian has been arrested in Senegal on similar charges. Several arrests in Mali reported previously.

Djimbé Senegal

26 January 2013: Unconfirmed reports via L’Observateur that around 50 armed militants were seen in the vicinity of Djimbé, Senegal near the border with Mali.

25 January 2013: Reports of large displacements of locals north towards Algeria in fear of Ganda Koy militia intimidating villagers in several locations, including Agachar & Zarho, Mali along the Niger river north west of Timbuktu. In Leré, a group of fighters with weapons and about 20 vehicles led by a former Malian army colonel reportedly announced they were quitting Ansar Dine to join MNLA.

24 January 2013: Unconfirmed report [ar] that someone in a vehicle carrying AQIM emir Abdelhamid Abou Zeid was injured by an airstrike by French military 50km north of Leré, Mali.

23 January 2013: Ahmadou Ag Abdalla, described as a leader of Ansar Dine who was active in the Goundam area of Mali was reportedly arrested in Bassiknou, Mauritania

21 January 2013: 7 students from the Islamic University in al-Ayoun, Mauritania were detained. 6 were later released and the remaining detainee, a former classmate newly-arrived from Mali, was sent to Nouakchott for interrogation on suspicion of promoting militant jihadism.

A fighter from Ansar Dine, Akili Ag Mami, surrendered to gendarmes in Fassala, Mauritania after being bombarded by French military jets.

A large contingent of fighters fleeing Mali, thought to include Hamada Ould Khairu, the leader of MUJAO, rumoured to have arrived at Tindouf refugee camp Algeria, in 10 4×4′s.

A new terrorist group, JAMA’ATU ANSARUL MUSLIMINA FI BILADIS-SUDAN (a.k.a JAMBS), thought  to be a breakaway faction of Boko Haram, reported as claiming responsibility for attack on Nigerian troops in Kogi State in order to warn Nigeria against joining Western powers in their “aim to demolish the Islamic empire of Mali.”

Ibrahim Ag Mohamed Assaleh20 January 2013: 2 MNLA colonels and their Human Rights liaison, Ibrahim Ag Mohamed Assaleh arrived unexpectedly in Niamey, Niger, from Burkina Faso where they were subjected to a barrage of questions from the media about their reaction to the arrival of French forces in Mali.

Abu al-Baraa Al-Jazairi

Abu al-Baraa Al-Jazairi

19 January 2013: After trekking north-east into Libya, and joining forces with armed militants from Egypt and Libya, the “Signed in Blood” battalion of Mokhtar Belmokhtar group took part in a raid on a BP-Statoil processing plant at In Amenas, Algeria taking many hostages, including foreign workers from Norway, France, USA, Great Britain, Romania, Colombia, Thailand, Philippines, Ireland, Japan and Germany. There were significant casualties, including 23 hostages  before the Algerian military regained control three days later. The armed attackers included fighters from Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Mali, Mauritania and Niger. One of the escaped hostages remarked on the “perfect” English accents of some of his captors. Four leaders were said to be among the 32 militants who died in this operation, identified by Algerian news site el-Watan as Abu Al-Baraa Al-Jazairi (Algerian leader of the hostage-taking operation and former member of the GSPC) Abul Rahman al-Nigeri (Nigerien), Lamine Moucheneb alias Taher (Algerian), and Abdallahi Ould Hmeida (Mauritanian youth of 18 who joined AQIM in 2009).

18 January 2013: French fighter jets pursued armed rebels from Mali across the border into Mauritania where they destroyed all 5 vehicles in the convoy near Fassala. 5 rebels are said to have survived but left the scene in search of medical assistance for the injured.

16 January 2013: New video from Mokhtar Belmokhtar reported but  not released removed shortly after release (but still visible here), in which it is said he is clearly identifying with AQIM for the first time.

15 January 2012: New video of Ansar Dine in Konna, scene of the initial fighting with Malian army.

New statement and leadership changes to MNLA Council

12 January 2013: Following the United Nations Security Council December 2012 resolution stating that elections must take place before a possible military intervention in September 2013, and the 1 January 2013 response from Malian political and military leaders that they were not prepared to wait that long, fighting between Malian military and rebel forces in broke out central Mali a few days later. The situation rapidly escalated and France sent troops with air support to Mali on 11 January. There is no reliable information about the level of casualties for any of the parties. The conflict has already created thousands of Malian refugees and internally displaced, and continues to gather external support.

25 December 2012: New video released of 4 French hostages, all reported unharmed.

11 December 2012: Lead guitarist and vocalist Intidaw aka Abdallah Ag Lamida of the Tinariwen band of Tuareg-Berber musicians was briefly detained by Ansar Dine while on a visit to his home village in Mali. Ag Lamida stepped into the lead role after Ibrahim Ag Alhabib left to join the Azawad rebellion.

9 December 2012: Radical followers of Islam in Gao announced they had created their own Ansar al-Sharia group.

6 December 2012: MNLA Deputy Secretary General Mohamed Lamine Ould Ahmed resigns over prospect of bargaining away rights by announcing willingness to deal with interim government in Bamako.

5 December 2012: AQIM/Freelance terrorist Mokhtar Belmokhtar alias Khaled Abu Abbas announced the formation of a new battalion “Signed in Blood”.

4 December 2012: “Black Tuesday” MNLA met with Mali government in Burkina Faso and agreed to cease hostilities.

Hostage Alberto Rodriguez-Léal

Hostage Alberto Rodriguez-Léal

20 November 2012: the abduction of a Portuguese-born man with French nationality who lives in Chirac, Lozère region of the Languedoc in France, took place in Mali. 61 year-old Alberto Rodriguez-Léal was driving himself through the South of Mali near the borders with Mauritania and Senegal when he was abducted near Diéma. This kidnapping brought the total number of hostages in the region at the time to 13, of which 7 were French. A video of Mr Rodriquez-Léal and images taken from it were later circulated. MUJAO spokesman Abu Walid Sahraoui claimed responsibility for the kidnapping and demanded the removal of French forces in Mali stationed near the Mauritania border. No updates or information have been published since the video was released at the end of November 2012.

16 November 2012: Ansar Dine reportedly ready to sever ties with MUJAO

Fulani fighters

Fulani fighters

13 November 2012: Ethnic Fulani members of MUJAO in Gao were reported to have left the group. Among these are probably some members of the Ganda Izo (Sons of the Land), a Fulani ethnic militia that was formed in 2008 – not to be confused with the longer-established Songhai ethnic group Ganda Koy (Masters of the Land). Ganda Izo was said to have agreed to a partnership deal for control of Douentza, but were later deemed by MUJAO to be “acting independently” and the deal was called off in September 2012.

22 October 2012: MNLA sources reported 9 Tuareg travellers were taken captive by the Malian army near Diabaly, scene of the September massacre of 16 Islamic preachers, most of them from Mauritania. 4 of the Tuareg were reported executed and the remaining 5 were unaccounted for. The next day, a report [ar] was posted of a Mauritanian trader arrested by the Malian army on suspicion of links to AQIM.
14 October 2012: a liaison between Al-Qaeda and AQIM,  45 year-old veteran militant Boualem Bekai aka Khaled El Migconfirmed killed in an ambush by Algerian forces at Azrou, 50km east of Tizi Ouzou in Algeria.

4 October 2012: Sahara Medias reported [ar]  Yahya Abu al-Hamam was appointed the new emir of AQIM. He replaced the former emir Nabil Abu Alqama, reported killed [ar] in a road accident near Douentza, Mali, on 9 September 2012*. The October news report says Abdelhamid Abou Zeid will report to al-Hamam.  Additional reports say Abou Zeid is now the main Sahel emir in northern Mali.

24 August 2012: Omar Hamaha (MUJAO chief) in a phone interview on Senegal radio denies reports of his death, explaining that he was away briefly visiting family and had not been anywhere near Niger.

17 August 2012: False report of MUJAO leader Omar Hamaha being killed in a skirmish near the border with Niger.

14 August 2012: Abou Ishak, head of the Legal Committee of AQIM, arrested  in Algeria.

Early August 2012: MUJAO leader Omar Hamaha appeared in a video uploaded April 2012, declaring willingness to expand “jihad” far beyond northern Mali under the right circumstances.

2 July 2012: Ansar Dine announced that it had planted land mines around the city of Gao. The already sporadic transport to and from Gao continued as before.

30 June 2012: Ansar Dine staged the destruction of some Sufi shrines in Timbuktu which had been freshly anointed as World Heritage Sites by UNESCO. The destruction of the tombs got more media coverage than most other events in Mali, and the International Criminal Court declared it a war crime.

29 June 2012: After intense fighting and many casualties, Ansar Dine declared control of Gao, Kidal and Timbuktu after expelling MNLA. In return, MNLA claimed they still controlled the largely desert area representing the rest of of northern Mali.

28 June 2012: False report of Mokhtar Belmokhtar being killed.

22 June 2012: 100 Malian religious leaders announced their rejection of the Touareg Islamist group’s strategy at a June 18th-20th conference attended by Ansar Dine leader Iyad Ag Ghaly.

15 June 2012: Ansar Dine and MNLA representatives began peace talks with ECOWAS in Burkina Faso.

12 June 2012: More MNLA and Ansar Dine fighting near Timbuktu.

11 June 2012: African Union asked for UN approval to intervene in northern Mali.

8 June 2012:  Skirmishes in Kidal between MNLA and Ansar Dine over imposition of Islamic law.

26 May 2012: MNLA and Ansar Dine agreed to an alliance which quickly disintegrated from lack of popular support.

20 May 2012: Military coup rebels officially returned power to the civilian government without surrendering themselves or their weapons.

Notes:

*Najib Ben Cherif posted – apparently in error – on Twitter that Abdelhamid Abou Zeid also died in the same crash:

The alleged car crash (all too common in Mali) coincided with another incident, north of Bamako.

Can We Stop the Madness in Mali?

5 vehicles in Mauritania destroyed in cross-border attack by France
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I happened to hear Mike Sheuer on the news and he really hit the nail on the head when discussing the enormous gap between what France says it wants to do in Mali and how it chooses to approach the task, and how that will impact its allies.

I also discovered a recent post  on Mike Sheuer’s website following the same train of thought, so there is more detail available if you need it. I note with regret that in his analysis, Mike has not explored the additional influence of the relationship between the West and the Gulf States on this scenario. Perhaps he has covered it elsewhere. If not, I suggest Glenn Greenwald’s 19 January blog post in the Guardian.

Agreeing with someone 100% on everything is not an essential for me to find value in what they say or to respect their point of view, so I am not going to dissect Mike’s comments on Islamists, or his reference to God in the title of his post, even though I am not entirely comfortable with either. But I have provided the entire recording and the link to his post for the sake of clarity, integrity and credibility: I don’t want to be accused of trying to mislead anyone by editing the speech. In any case, the recording is only a few minutes long.

I also want to make it clear that I am strongly opposed to Operation Serval because it is causing the deaths of innocent civilians and spreading terror through an already fragile and frightened community, prompting a surge in the number of refugees and displaced people. At the same time, the military conflict is providing cover for racially motivated human rights abuses against Tuareg and Arab/Berber civilians by the Malian army and their accomplices. All of this could and should have been anticipated. I can only conclude that both the interim government in Mali and the French government were aware of these massive humanitarian risks. Certainly the UN and human rights NGOs like Amnesty [reported in the Guardian] and HRW [reported in Huffington Post] are aware.

While I am sharing links to popular news sites, I also have to comment on the distinctive lack of independent news coverage from Mali. Reliable reports are always thin on the ground there but the press is now being shackled by restrictions such as all journalists having to stay 100 kilometers away from any battle zones unless embedded with troops (and covering bland events like cargo planes arriving). This is the same distance as given in the UK Travel Advisory for tourists. Surely professional, trained reporters with previous experience of war reporting can be trusted to get a little closer to the action?  I have some ideas to share with you, exploring the possibility of a less innocent reason for a ban that effectively muzzles the media, in another post.

But the military intervention pushes on regardless. I think they need to call an immediate ceasefire and do the hard work of making serious efforts to find a peaceful political solution. I want to know how to make this happen.

This is a complicated issue and no one is going to have all the answers, but if you want to contribute to this discussion – one I think is really important and that we need to see happening everywhere – I welcome your comments and suggestions.

Engineering color revolutions. Price tag: $20-120million (RT video)

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The US is the “foremost power” when it comes to creating and applying “color revolutions”: America invented the know-how and has the best experts in this area, political scientist Mateusz Piskorski told RT

Map of Color Revolutions. Created by User:Aris...

Color RevolutionsMap: Aris Katsaris. Photo credit: Wikipedia

RT: What are the key ingredients to start a color revolution?

Mateusz Piskorsky: There has to be a real political and social crisis, which may be an inspiration for those groups who protest. There is no color revolution without a social basis. Common consciousness of a real economic or social problem is needed to easily manipulate the protesting groups.

RT: So the problem has to be economic or social rather than a regime problem, like a dictatorship?

MP: Yes, about 90 per cent of every society, including the societies of Central and Eastern Europe, are first and foremost interested in their social and economic interests. Which means they don’t care about politics, the political system or the character of a political regime. They’re just worried about their economic prospects and possibilities of keeping their families on a certain social level. This is the most important factor in every revolution.

RT: What is the infrastructure behind a protest?

MP: Really professional coordination centers… secret from ordinary protesters, but functioning very effectively.

RT: What is the share of people power versus the power of the people who actually pull the strings?

MP: Every protester has his own interests to participate in the protest, but it is really very easy for him to lose his rationality and become a subject of “emotional engineering”.

RT: When people realize they have been subject to manipulation – what is their reaction?

MP: Usually they do not realize they are subject to manipulation. It’s a question of the so-called information area or mass-media.One of the very important factors in any color revolution is the control of mass-media. First you take control over alternative mass media which has good reliability in the opinion polls. Then you think about a color revolution.One of the decisive parts of a color revolution project is the media.This is not a war between the regime and the people. It is a conflict between PR specialists of the government on one hand and the protest movement, or some foreign powers engaged on the other.

RT: Talking about foreign powers – where does the funding come from for such [color revolution] projects?

MP: This is the most interesting question, and also the most guarded secret… Certain foundations from some western countries, including the US, funded protests in Ukraine and Belarus.

RT: Is the US always present in such conflicts?

)”]color revolutionMP: I’m not sure about always, but it is in most of the conflicts. Another factor here – you have geopolitical interests. Every superpower like the US makes its decision: is it worth engaging, starting or igniting a color revolution or not? It is not only the US, but to be honest the US has the best experts in this area. The man who invented the whole technology is Gene Sharp [considered by many the world’s best expert on non-violent revolution, author of From Dictatorship to Democracy]. The US is the leading power when it comes to this technology, I can say.

RT: The US new ambassador in Russia Michael McFaul has admitted that America used to fund opposition movements and color revolutions but under a different administration, that it’s no longer done under the Obama administration. Do you believe that?

MP: I believe that Mr. McFaul is one of the best specialists and scholars working on color revolutions, including in Ukraine. He’s an expert. I don’t believe the US is not using this technology.Sometimes a color revolution may not end on a peaceful note and may proceed to a civil war, the case with Syria and Libya.

RT: How much can a project like installing a new regime in Ukraine in 2003 cost?

MP: Most of them range from $20 million to $120 million.

via US ‘world leader’ in color revolution engineering — RT.

Fish For Dinner? The Fruits of Slave Labor

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On March 25, 2011, Yusril became a slave. That afternoon he went to the East Jakarta offices of Indah Megah Sari (IMS), an agency that hires crews to work on foreign fishing vessels. He was offered a job on the Melilla 203, a South Korea-flagged ship that trawls in the waters off New Zealand. “Hurry up,” said the agent, holding a pen over a thick stack of contracts in a windowless conference room with water-stained walls. Waving at a pile of green Indonesian passports of other prospective fishermen, he added: “You really can’t waste time reading this. There are a lot of others waiting, and the plane leaves tomorrow.”

Yusril is 28, with brooding looks and a swagger that belies his slight frame. (Yusril asked that his real name not be used out of concern for his safety.) He was desperate for the promised monthly salary of $260, plus bonuses, for unloading fish. His wife was eight months pregnant, and he had put his name on a waiting list for the job nine months earlier. After taking a daylong bus ride to Jakarta, he had given the agent a $225 fee he borrowed from his brother-in-law, Bloomberg Businessweek reports in its Feb. 27 edition. The agent rushed him through signing the contracts, at least one of which was in English, which Yusril does not read.

The terms of the first contract, the “real” one, would later haunt him. In it, IMS spelled out terms with no rights. In addition to the agent’s commission, Yusril would surrender 30 percent of his salary, which IMS would hold unless the work was completed. He would be paid nothing for the first three months, and if the job were not finished to the fishing company’s satisfaction, Yusril would be sent home and charged more than $1,000 for the airfare. The meaning of “satisfactory” was left vague. The contract said only that Yusril would have to work whatever hours the boat operators demanded.

Locked In

The last line of the contract, in bold, warned that Yusril’s family would owe nearly $3,500 if he were to run away from the ship. The amount was greater than his net worth, and he had earlier submitted title to his land as collateral for that bond. Additionally, he had provided IMS with the names and addresses of his family members. He was locked in.

What followed, according to Yusril and several shipmates who corroborated his story, was an eight-month ordeal aboard the Melilla 203, during which Indonesian fishermen were subjected to physical and sexual abuse by the ship’s operators. Their overlords told them not to complain or fight back, or they would be sent home, where the agents would take their due. Yusril and 23 others walked off in protest when the trawler docked in Lyttelton, New Zealand. The men have seen little if any of what they say they are owed. Such coerced labor is modern-day slavery, as the United Nations defines the crime. (The South Korean owners of the Melilla ships did not respond to requests for comment.)

Debt Bondage

The experiences of the fishermen on the Melilla 203 were not unique. In a six-month investigation, Bloomberg Businessweek found cases of debt bondage on the Melilla 203 and at least nine other ships that have operated in New Zealand’s waters. As recently as November 2011, fish from the Melilla 203 and other suspect vessels were bought and processed by United Fisheries, New Zealand’s eighth-largest seafood company, which sold the same kinds of fish in that period to distributors operating in the U.S. (The U.S. imports 86 percent of its seafood.) The distributors in turn sold the fish to major U.S. companies. Those companies — which include some of the country’s biggest retailers and restaurants — sold the seafood to American consumers.

Yusril’s story and that of nearly two dozen other survivors of abuse reveal how the $85 billion global fishing industry profits from the labor of people forced to work for little or no pay, often under the threat of violence. Although many U.S. seafood companies and retailers claim not to do business with suppliers who exploit their workers, the truth is far murkier.

Musty Quarters

Hours after Yusril arrived in Dunedin, New Zealand, the Melilla 203 officers put him to work unloading squid on the 193- foot, 26-year-old trawler. The ship was in bad shape, and the quarters were musty, as the vessel had no functioning dryer for crew linens or work clothes. Yet the conditions seemed comparatively decent to Yusril.

Two years earlier he had worked on the Dong Won 519, operating under the auspices of Sanford Ltd., a 130-year-old, $383 million New Zealand company. On that boat, Yusril says the officers hit him in the face with fish and the boatswain repeatedly kicked him in the back for using gloves when he was sewing the trawl nets in cold weather. Most unnervingly, the second officer would crawl into the bunk of Yusril’s friend at night and attempt to rape him. When asked for comment, Chief Executive Officer Eric Barratt said Sanford’s observers, which the company placed on all their foreign-chartered vessels (FCVs), reported that the ships “don’t have any issues with labor abuse.”

Conditions Worsen

When the Melilla 203 set sail for the deep waters of the Southern Ocean, conditions worsened, according to the accounts of Yusril and a dozen other crew members. The ship trawled for up to two months at a time, between 12 and 200 miles offshore. The boatswain would grab crew members’ genitals as they worked or slept. When the captain of the ship drank, he molested some of the crew, kicking those who resisted. As nets hauled in the catch — squid, ling, hoki, hake, grouper, southern blue whiting, jack mackerel, and barracuda — the officers shouted orders from the bridge. They often compelled the Indonesians to work without proper safety equipment for up to 30 hours, swearing at them if they so much as asked for coffee or a bathroom break. Even when fishermen were not hauling catches, 16-hour workdays were standard.

Fatigue

The resulting fatigue meant accidents, which could bring dismemberment in the cramped below-deck factory where the fish were headed and gutted by hand, then passed along conveyor belts to be frozen. Over the past decade at least two crew members of the Melilla ships have died, according to local newspaper accounts and reports by Maritime New Zealand, a government regulatory body. Dozens of Melilla crew members suffered injuries, some crippling.

When Ruslan, 36, a friend of Yusril’s on the 203, snapped two bones in his left hand in a winch, it took three weeks before he was allowed to go to a hospital. The morning after his discharge he was ordered back to work but could not carry out his duties. The company removed him before any follow-up medical appointments. “I was a slave, but then I became useless to the Koreans, so they sent me home with nothing,” he says.

Today, back in his home village in Central Java, Ruslan has a deformed hand. While IMS, the recruiting agency, finally paid him $335 for three months of work, it has blacklisted him, according to Ruslan, because he spoke to investigators, and it has refused to help with medical bills.

Ecological Infractions

During the last decade, New Zealand authorities repeatedly fined or seized the Melilla ships for ecological infractions, such as a 2005 oil discharge in Lyttelton (LPC) Harbor, which the country monitored by satellite and occasional inspections by Ministry of Fisheries observers. Crimes against humanity were secondary. Scott Gallacher, a spokesman for New Zealand’s Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (which merged with the Ministry of Fisheries in July), explained that “observers are not formally tasked” with assisting abused crew, though they may report abuses to the Department of Labour. Yet Yusril said that when he once whispered a plea for help, an observer expressed sympathy but said it was “not my job.”

New Zealand authorities had plenty of prior evidence of deplorable working conditions on foreign vessels like the Melilla. On Aug. 18, 2010, in calm seas, a Korean-flagged trawler called the Oyang 70 sank, killing six. Survivors told the crew of the rescuing vessel their stories of being trafficked. A report by Christina Stringer and Glenn Simmons, two researchers at the University of Auckland Business School, and Daren Coulston, a mariner, uncovered numerous cases of abuse and coercion among the 2,000 fishermen on New Zealand’s 27 FCVs.

New Zealand Inquiry

The report prompted the government to launch a joint inquiry. The researchers gathered testimony from New Zealand observers who saw abuses being committed even after they had boarded ships. “Korean officers are vicious bastards,” one observer said, as quoted in the report. The source said a factory manager “rapped” a 12-kilogram (26 pounds) stainless steel pan over a crew member’s head, splitting the top of it, with blood “pissing out everywhere.” The observer said he gave the Indonesian fisherman 26 stitches.

After eight months on the Melilla 203, Yusril and 23 other crew members protested their treatment and pay to the captain. The move came after a Department of Labour investigator visited the ship in November 2011, when it was docked in Lyttelton. The official gave Yusril a fact sheet stipulating that crew members were entitled to minimum standards of treatment under New Zealand law, including pay of at least $12 per hour. When deductions, agency fees, and a manipulated exchange rate were subtracted, the fishermen were averaging around $1 per hour.

Retribution Threats

The captain dismissed the document and threatened to send them home to face retribution from the recruiting agency. Believing that the New Zealand government would protect them from such a fate, Yusril and all but four of the Indonesian crew walked off the boat and sought refuge in Lyttelton Union Parish Church. Aided by two local pro bono lawyers, they decried months of flagrant human rights abuses and demanded their unpaid wages under New Zealand’s Admiralty Act.

Ten miles from Lyttelton, in neighboring Christchurch, stands the headquarters of United Fisheries, the company that exclusively purchased the fish that Yusril and his mates caught. The building features gleaming Doric columns topped with friezes of chariot races. It was designed to resemble the temples to Aphrodite in Cyprus, the homeland of United founder Kypros Kotzikas.

‘High Standard’

The patriarch started in New Zealand with a small fish-and- chip restaurant. Some 40 years later, his son, Andre, 41, runs a company that had some $66 million in revenue last year. Although three Melilla crew members, citing abuse, had run away nine days before I spoke with Kotzikas, he told me he had heard of no complaints from crew on board the ships, and he had personally boarded the vessels to ensure that the conditions “are of very high standard.”

“I don’t think that claims of slavery or mistreatment can be attached to foreign charter vessels that are operating here in New Zealand,” he said. “Not for responsible operators.”

In an e-mail, Peter Elms, a fraud and compliance manager with Immigration New Zealand, cited a police assessment that found that complaints from crews amounted to nothing more than disputes over work conditions, alleged minor assaults, intimidation, workplace bullying and non-payment of wages. Elms said his department had two auditors who visited each vessel every two or three years, and they had found nothing rising to the level of human trafficking, a crime punishable in New Zealand by up to 20 years in prison.

‘Beautiful Stuff’

Kotzikas said that while New Zealand’s labor laws are “a thousand pages of, you know, beautiful stuff,” he believed they did not necessarily apply beyond New Zealand’s 12-mile territorial radius.

Half of United Fisheries’ annual revenue is generated outside New Zealand, spread across five continents. In the U.S., which imports an estimated $14.7 billion worth of fish annually, regulators are beginning to pay attention to the conditions under which that food is caught.

The California Transparency in Supply Chains Act, as of Jan. 1, requires all retailers with more than $100 million in global sales to publicly disclose their efforts to monitor and combat slavery in their supply chains. The law covers some 3,200 corporations that do business in the state, including several that trade in seafood.

Kotzikas said his company sold ling, a species of fish which is also caught by the Melilla crews, to Costco Wholesale Corp, America’s largest wholesaler and the world’s seventh- largest retailer.

Risking Punishment

Another New Zealand company with ties to U.S. retailers is Sanford, the country’s second-largest seafood enterprise. On Nov. 3, I interviewed crew members of the Dong Won and Pacinui vessels, charters catching fish for Sanford, near the docks at Lyttelton. These men risked punishment by speaking out: Less than a week earlier three Pacinui crew members who had complained were sent back to Indonesia to face the recruiters.

A Dong Won deckhand said he felt like a slave as he simulated a Korean officer kicking him on the ground. Their contracts, issued by IMS and two other Indonesian agents, were nearly identical to those signed by the Melilla crew. They reported the same pay rates, false contracts, doctored time sheets and similar hours, daily abuse, intimidation, and threats to their families if they walked away.

Audits

After several desertions over the past decade, New Zealand labor audits of the Dong Won ships turned up some of the same complaints. In 2010, Sanford assured the government that it would improve oversight of foreign-chartered vessels and address allegations of abuse or wage exploitation. Barratt, Sanford’s CEO, said observers of his company’s foreign vessels did not find instances of abuse and that three deported Pacinui crew had returned voluntarily.

According to Barratt, his company exports to the U.S. through at least 16 seafood distributors, the majority through Mazzetta Co LLC, a $425 million corporation based in suburban Chicago that is the largest American importer of New Zealand fish. Mazzetta sells the same species caught on the Dong Won and Pacinui ships to outlets across the country. On Feb. 21, after the publication of an online version of this article, CEO Tom Mazzetta sent Barratt a letter demanding an investigation of labor practices on Sanford’s foreign-chartered vessels.

Sanford also sells to the $10 billion supermarket chain Whole Foods Market Inc, Barratt said. Whole Foods spokeswoman Ashley Hawkins said that “for proprietary reasons we cannot reveal who we source from for our exclusive brand products.”

‘In Compliance

Asked about allegations that FCVs in New Zealand employ slave labor, Hawkins said Whole Foods is “in compliance with the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, New Zealand is not considered high-risk.”

Other buyers of Sanford’s fish include Nova Scotia-based High Liner Foods Inc, which sells products containing the same seafood as that caught by the indentured fishermen on the Dong Won and Pacinui ships. High Liner’s customers include U.S. retailers such as Safeway Inc, America’s second-largest grocery store chain, and Wal-Mart Stores Inc, the world’s largest retailer. When alerted by Bloomberg Businessweek, spokespeople for both retailers pledged swift investigations. Alastair Macfarlane, a representative of New Zealand’s Seafood Industry Council, declined to comment on which American companies might be buying fish from troubled vessels such as the Melilla 203.

Tainted Fish

However, an analysis of several sources of data –including New Zealand fishery species quota and FCV catch totals made available by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry –suggests roughly 40 percent of squid exported from New Zealand is caught on one of the vessels using coerced labor. Perhaps 15 percent of all New Zealand hoki exports may be slave-caught, and 8 percent of the country’s southern blue whiting catch may be tainted.

Despite the prevalence of foreign-chartered vessels, which in 2010 earned $274.6 million in export revenue and hauled in 62.3 percent of New Zealand’s deepwater catch, some companies have determined they are not worth the risk.

“The reputational damage is immeasurable,” says Andrew Talley, director of Talley’s Group, New Zealand’s third-largest fishing company, which submits to third-party audits on its labor standards, a condition of its contract to supply McDonald’s Corp with hoki for its Filet-O-Fish sandwiches.

‘Hard-Earned’ Reputation

“New Zealand seafood enjoys a hard-earned and world- leading reputation as a responsible fisheries manager, with a product range and quality to match,” says Talley. “There is nothing responsible at all about using apparently exploitative and abusive FCVs.”

The main thoroughfare that bisects Yusril’s Central Java village feeds into a chain of divided tollways that run all the way to Jakarta. Travelers along the road quickly leave the briny air of the fishing kampungs and pass through green rice paddies dotted with water buffalo and trees bearing swollen, spiky jackfruit. Sixty years ago, Yusril’s grandfather worked that land. Today, thousands journey along the highway to seek new lives.

When I found him last December, Yusril was back in his in- laws’ modest home, tucked well off a side road. He was out of work and brainstorming ways to scratch out a living by returning to his father’s trade, farming. IMS, the recruiting agency in Jakarta, had blacklisted him and was refusing to return his birth certificate, his basic safety training credentials, and his family papers. It was also withholding pay, totaling around $1,100. In total, Yusril had been paid an average of 50¢ an hour on the Melilla 203. (An IMS attorney did not respond to repeated e-mails requesting comment. When I showed up at the agency’s offices in Jakarta, a security guard escorted me out.)

Two of the 24 men who walked off the Melilla 203 returned to work on the ship rather than face deportation. The ship’s representatives flew the remaining 22 resisters back to Indonesia. When they returned to Central Java, the resisters say they were coerced by IMS into signing documents waiving their claims to redress for human rights violations in exchange for their originally stipulated payments of $500 to $1,000. Yusril was one of two who held out. On Jan. 21, when I last spoke to him, I asked why he had refused to sign the document.

“Dignity,” said Yusril, pointing to his heart.

From an article by E. Benjamin Skinner - Mar 30, 2012

Does Fashion Police Emo Death Squad mean Iraq is the new Iran?

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The hot news this weekend is that Obama has begun to tone down the animosity towards Iran. Most of the entertainment comes from watching the remarkable agility of media outlets in reversing their previous positions in order to follow suit.

Iraq Emo Death Squads

Iraqi activists said this unnamed teenager was brutally killed by religious police for having an 'emo' hairstyle

While pondering this acrobatic phenomena, I found this story in a UK tabloid about “emo” youths in Iraq being targeted and killed for their sense of style, which is apparently at odds with the desires of the Interior Ministry. The stories emerged on FaceBook according to the newspaper, which claims Iraqi morality police have rounded up dozens of youth and stoned them to death as punishment for their outlandish love of fashion in the form of spiky hair, skinny jeans and decorative items featuring stylized skulls.  It occurred to me that all those comment contributors we’ve rolled our eyes at over the past couple of years because they don’t understand the difference between Iran and Iraq are about to get a reprieve. It also crossed my mind that if the youth of any country have earned the right to feature skulls as a fashion emblem, it is surely Iraq, graveyard of the global war on terror.

The tale of emo kids being slaughtered is so strongly reminiscent of stories we’ve seen before about the Iranian regime repressing its youth, I wondered if I had caught the comment-poster community’s dyslexic virus and mis-read the headline. But no, it’s just a case of déjà vu. We are being mentally shifted towards the end of the media see-saw where Iran is not about to be bombed, it doesn’t have a nuclear weapon, and didn’t arrange those attacks on Israeli diplomats. And the cat is firmly out of the bag about how Israel and the noxious US-terror-listed MKO/MEK/PMOI/NCRI cult have been in cahoots this whole time.

This being an election year, Obama will be doing all humanly possible to distance himself from the revelations which are sure to follow. There are signs of an investigation starting, one which many would say is long overdue, into those prominent Americans who have accepted money from the MKO and have made public statements supporting them in glowing terms.

Iran Twitter Flag

There is also emerging news about some of the players in the psychological war as they describe it, designed to raise Iran’s profile in the media. Twitter was at one point a major theatre of operations for this psy-ops offensive. Twitter is still in active use as a platform for propaganda, but lacks the intensity and volume that spiked immediately after the June 2009 presidential election in Iran. So polished is the performance of these actors, that it is incredibly difficult to tell them apart from genuine activists. Indeed, they were able to recruit sufficient numbers of “regular” people to their cause that it created a social media shield: a virtual buffer to prevent detection and obscure their motives. And this is where the damage is done. Their misinformation and disinformation using blogs, websites and FaceBook pages under the “human rights” or “secular democracy” banners, false news reports, fake videos, doctored pictures, and their massive media campaigns, all deflect public attention and the media spotlight away from real activists, distorting their messages, diluting the response.

By using manipulation tactics to call for protests, pushing people to go out onto the streets in Iran, they caused the loss of dozens of innocent lives and stole the future from tens of thousands of refugees, forced to flee the chaos that followed. By posing as genuine “green movement” members, they wormed their way into private groups, spread malware to spy on activists, discredited genuine dissidents, and placed them at hugely increased risk.

Several thousand people have been detained in Iran, where they are mentally and physically tortured, and subjected to  excessive punishments and harsh sentences. If detainees are found to have been in contact with any of these agents provocateurs, the punishment is many more times as severe than if they are not suspected by the regime as being part of the “wave of sedition” engineered by the “hypocrites” (the IRI’s pet-name for the MKO). Even now, there are prisoners in Iran protesting their innocence because they still don’t realise that one of their supportive friends was actually a member of the hated MKO or one of their associates (whether knowingly or not).

I know this, through of my links to genuine activists and my work to maintain a database of prisoners in Iran, and because I am one of a handful of people, unpaid but highly dedicated, who have been observing the army of internet trolls whose mission (among other things) involved pretending to be part of a grass-roots “green movement” either in Iran, or playing the role of supporters outside. When we think of “outside”, let’s not overlook the nearest neighbour Iraq, home for many years to the largest group of MKO since their exile from Iran. To heighten my apprehension, Iran’s Minister of Telecommunications has just said Tehran is ready to transfer its “knowledge and experiences” in telecoms and e-government to Iraq.

Writing this post makes me sad and angry, because there are real issues in Iran and real Iranians who do actually have aspirations towards greater personal and social freedom, enjoyment of human rights, or even “secular democracy” if you will excuse me using one of the cult’s catch-phrases. Despite their best efforts, many of these people, and many others outside Iran, were completely taken in by what they believed was a source of help and support to highlight issues in Iran. I dread to think of the consequences of a similar campaign targeting Iraq in its far more fragile state.

I hope more facts about the disgraceful MKO-MOSSAD psy-ops programme which deliberately placed thousands of innocent Iranians plus their families, friends, and contacts around the world at risk is about to see some daylight at last. It would be too much to hope that the US government’s support, whether through funding, complacency, facilitation or compromise, that would obviously be essential to such a campaign, is also revealed. It would be naïve to expect that, having developed a taste for this exotic form of warfare, and presumably having also secured a huge budget, and a certain prestige for the programme’s leaders, this extremely effective and comparatively low-cost form of warfare will simply go away. To ensure it does not, a new victim is needed, and it could be that Iraq is the unlucky target.

This post is intended to make social media users who follow and support civil and human rights issues stop and think. Be cautious, be wary, be afraid. Me, I’m likely to stay angry a good long while.