By The Canadian Press - Sunday, February 17, 2013 - 0 Comments
MANIWAKI, Qc – Police say they have arrested two teenagers and are looking for…
MANIWAKI, Qc – Police say they have arrested two teenagers and are looking for a possible third suspect after two seniors were kidnapped at gunpoint and driven more than an hour from their home in Quebec.
Quebec provincial police Sgt. Claude Denis says a 70-year-old woman and 65-year-old man were taken Friday from their home near Maniwaki and driven to a barn in L’Isle-aux-Allumettes, about 150 kilometres southwest.
He says the suspects fled and the couple managed to escape early Saturday morning. The pair then flagged a passing driver who came to their aid.
Denis says a 16-year-old Ottawa boy was arrested shortly afterward in nearby Pembroke, Ont., while a 17-year-old boy later surrendered to police in Quebec.
He says the two boys are set to appear in court Monday, and investigators are trying to determine whether a third person was involved.
He says it’s unclear whether the suspects used a real gun or a fake.
It’s alleged the teens also stole the couple’s vehicle, which was recovered Saturday in Pembroke.
Denis says the couple was taken to hospital with minor injuries and shock.
By The Associated Press - Thursday, January 17, 2013 at 8:25 PM - 0 Comments
ALGIERS, Algeria – Algerian helicopters and special forces stormed a gas plant in the…
ALGIERS, Algeria – Algerian helicopters and special forces stormed a gas plant in the stony plains of the Sahara on Thursday to wipe out Islamist militants and free hostages from at least 10 countries. Bloody chaos ensued, leaving the fate of the fighters and many of the captives uncertain.
Duelling claims from the military and the militants muddied the world’s understanding of an event that angered Western leaders, raised world oil prices and complicated the international military operation in neighbouring Mali.
At least six people, and perhaps many more, were killed — Britons, Filipinos and Algerians. Terrorized hostages from Ireland and Norway trickled out of the Ain Amenas plant, families urging them never to return.
Dozens more remained unaccounted for: Americans, Britons, French, Norwegians, Romanians, Malaysians, Japanese, Algerians and the fighters themselves.
The U.S. government sent an unmanned surveillance drone to the BP-operated site, near the border with Libya and 800 miles (1,290 kilometres) from the Algerian capital, but it could do little more than watch Thursday’s intervention. Algeria’s army-dominated government, hardened by decades of fighting Islamist militants, shrugged aside foreign offers of help and drove ahead alone.
With the hostage drama entering its second day Thursday, Algerian security forces moved in, first with helicopter fire and then special forces, according to diplomats, a website close to the militants, and an Algerian security official. The government said it was forced to intervene because the militants were being stubborn and wanted to flee with the hostages.
The militants — led by a Mali-based al-Qaida offshoot known as the Masked Brigade — suffered losses in Thursday’s military assault, but succeeded in garnering a global audience.
Even violence-scarred Algerians were stunned by the brazen hostage-taking Wednesday, the biggest in northern Africa in years and the first to include Americans as targets. Mass fighting in the 1990s had largely spared the lucrative oil and gas industry that gives Algeria its economic independence and regional weight.
The hostage-taking raised questions about security for sites run by multinationals that are dotted across Africa’s largest country. It also raised the prospect of similar attacks on other countries allied against the extremist warlords and drug traffickers who rule a vast patch of desert across several countries in northwest Africa. Even the heavy-handed Algerian response may not deter groups looking for martyrdom and attention.
Casualty figures in the Algerian standoff varied widely. The remote location is extremely hard to reach and was surrounded by Algerian security forces — who, like the militants, are inclined to advertise their successes and minimize their failures.
“An important number of hostages were freed and an important number of terrorists were eliminated, and we regret the few dead and wounded,” Algeria’s communications minister, Mohand Said Oubelaid, told national media, adding that the “terrorists are multinational,” coming from several different countries with the goal of “destabilizing Algeria, embroiling it in the Mali conflict and damaging its natural gas infrastructure.”
The official news agency said four hostages were killed in Thursday’s operation, two Britons and two Filipinos. Two others, a Briton and an Algerian, died Wednesday in an ambush on a bus ferrying foreign workers to an airport. Citing hospital officials, the APS news agency said six Algerians and seven foreigners were injured.
APS said some 600 local workers were safely freed in the raid — but many of those were reportedly released the day before by the militants themselves.
The militants, via a Mauritanian news website, claimed that 35 hostages and 15 militants died in the helicopter strafing. A spokesman for the Masked Brigade told the Nouakchott Information Agency in Mauritania that only seven hostages survived.
By nightfall, Algeria’s government said the raid was over. But the whereabouts of the rest of the plant workers was unclear.
President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron spoke on the phone to share their confusion. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the Obama administration was “seeking clarity from the government of Algeria.”
An unarmed American surveillance drone soared overhead as the Algerian forces closed in, U.S. officials said. The U.S. offered military assistance Wednesday to help rescue the hostages but the Algerian government refused, a U.S. official said in Washington. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the offer.
Militants earlier said they were holding seven Americans, but the administration confirmed only that Americans were among those taken. The U.S. government was in contact with American businesses across North Africa and the Middle East to help them guard against the possibility of copycat attacks.
BP, the Norwegian company Statoil and the Algerian state oil company Sonatrach, operate the gas field and a Japanese company, JGC Corp, provides services for the facility.
Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe protested the military raid as an act that “threatened the lives of the hostages,” according to a spokesman.
Jean-Christophe Gray, a spokesman for Cameron, said Britain was not informed in advance of the raid.
One Irish hostage managed to escape: electrician Stephen McFaul, who’d worked in North Africa’s oil and natural gas fields off and on for 15 years. His family said the militants let hostages call their families to press the kidnappers’ demands.
“He phoned me at 9 o’clock to say al-Qaida were holding him, kidnapped, and to contact the Irish government, for they wanted publicity. Nightmare, so it was. Never want to do it again. He’ll not be back! He’ll take a job here in Belfast like the rest of us,” said his mother, Marie.
Dylan, McFaul’s 13-year-old son, started crying as he talked to Ulster Television. “I feel over the moon, just really excited. I just can’t wait for him to get home,” he said.
Algerian forces who had ringed the Ain Amenas complex had vowed not to negotiate with the militants, who reportedly were seeking safe passage. Security experts said the end of the two-day standoff was in keeping with the North African country’s tough approach to terrorism.
“Algerians clearly were not willing to compromise with the terrorists and not willing to accept the idea of coping with the situation for days and days,” said Riccardo Fabiani of Eurasia Group. “Algerians never had problems causing a blood bath to respond to terrorist attacks.”
Phone contacts with the militants were severed as government forces closed in, according to the Mauritanian agency, which often carries reports from al-Qaida-linked extremist groups in North Africa.
A 58-year-old Norwegian engineer who made it to the safety of a nearby Algerian military camp told his wife how militants attacked a bus Wednesday before being fended off by a military escort.
“Bullets were flying over their heads as they hid on the floor of the bus,” Vigdis Sletten told The Associated Press in a phone interview from her home in Bokn, on Norway’s west coast.
Her husband and the other bus passengers climbed out of a window and were transported to a nearby military camp, she said, declining to give his name for security reasons.
News of the bloody Algerian operation caused oil prices to rise $1.25 to close at $95.49 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, and prompted energy companies like BP PLC and Spain’s Compania Espanola de Petroleos SA to try to relocate energy workers at other Algerian plants.
Algerian Interior Minister Daho Ould Kabila said the 20-odd militants entered the country from nearby Libya in three vehicles, in an operation commanded by extremist mastermind Moktar Belmoktar, who is normally based in Mali.
“The Algerian authorities have expressed, many times, to the Libyan authorities, its fears and asked it a dozen times to be careful and secure borders with Algeria,” Kabila was quoted as saying on the website of the newspaper Echourouk.
The militants made it clear that their attack was fallout from the intervention in Mali. One commander, Oumar Ould Hamaha, said they were now “globalizing the conflict” in revenge for the military assault on Malian soil.
France has encountered fierce resistance from the extremist groups in Mali and failed to persuade many allies to join in the actual combat. The Algeria raid could push other partners to act more decisively in Mali — but could also scare away those who are wary of inviting terrorist attacks back home.
By Anne Kingston - Friday, May 13, 2011 at 7:00 AM - 3 Comments
The CBC reporter held in Afghanistan resisted, defied and then forgave them
“Do you want to see where I was stabbed?” Mellissa Fung asks, pulling aside the strap of her sleeveless pink blouse and pointing to the back of her right shoulder. The CBC reporter is proud of the bruise-like wound: it marks the resistance she put up during her abduction outside of Kabul in 2008.
A similar spirit of refusal animates Under an Afghan Sky, Fung’s memoir of her kidnapping and 28-day captivity in an underground hole the size of a closet. The publicity tour has brought her to a Toronto hotel, where she’s politely, if reluctantly, discussing it. “I’m an old-school journalist,” the 38-year-old says. “I’d rather tell the story than be the story.”
She was a hesitant memoirist, too. “I wanted to move on.” Dredging it up again was “pretty horrible,” she says, but she needed to address “misinformation”—that money or Taliban members were exchanged for her release. A screenplay was rumoured to be in the works. “I wanted my own record, the way I remembered it,” says Fung, a self-described “control freak.”
By macleans.ca - Thursday, November 18, 2010 at 1:56 PM - 0 Comments
Bob Croke was snatched from oil rig on Nov. 8
St. John’s, Nfld. resident Bob Croke was among 19 people released after a military operation in Nigeria Wednesday. The oil worker was taken hostage on Nov. 8 from the Okoro oil field, which is 11 km off the coast of Akwa Ibom state in the Atlantic Ocean. Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon confirmed the release, but a Foreign Affairs spokeswoman told CTV News they would not provide further details. “That might compromise or jeopardize the safe return of someone else in the future,” she said. Bombings and kidnappings of foreigners are common in oil-rich but poverty-heavy West Africa.
By Patricia Treble - Thursday, September 3, 2009 at 5:20 PM - 1 Comment
The fishermen escaped after four months in captivity
Thirty-four members of two Egyptian fishing boats returned to a hero’s welcome in Suez on Sunday after being held captive by Somali pirates for four months. Their arrival came nine days after they overpowered their captives and regained control of the boats, captured while in the dangerous waters of the Gulf of Aden.
Precisely how the Egyptians accomplished the feat is something of a mystery. Almost all of the fishermen told reporters a different story. Adel Abdel-Atti said there was a 35-minute fistfight before the Egyptians overwhelmed their captors. Osama Watan said they attacked while the pirates were resting. “One of us who delivered their lunch signalled to us when they had laid down their weapons,” he told AP. “That’s when we knew it was time to either attack or be killed.” But perhaps the best explanation cames from one of the ship’s owners, Mohammad Nasr, who said that the other owner, Hassan Khalil, hired his own gang of Somali gunmen. Nasr went on to state that after paying a US$200,000 down payment, Khalil conned his way onto his own ship and got the fishermen to distract the pirates while his mercenaries boarded and retook the vessels. Continue…
By Susan Mohammad - Monday, January 19, 2009 at 1:22 PM - 0 Comments
The latest kidnap victim, Panagopoulos, is said to be ill
For a nation founded on the concepts of democracy and civil order, Greece has been rocked by an unusual amount of violence lately. On Monday, prominent shipping tycoon Pericles Panagopoulos was abducted by three men wielding Kalashnikovs, the third such high-profile kidnapping since June.
Panagopoulos is the 74-year-old founder of Attica Group, Greece’s largest ferry company, and is said to be worth about $400 million. According to reports, he was snatched near his seaside home just outside of Athens as he was being driven to work, and forced into one of two waiting vans. Police say his driver, who was also abducted, was later found hooded and handcuffed to a bush in Koropi, a town 15 km away.
By selley - Wednesday, November 12, 2008 at 6:08 PM - 6 Comments
I spoke with Scott Taylor yesterday on the subject of kidnappings—he’s something of an…
I spoke with Scott Taylor yesterday on the subject of kidnappings—he’s something of an expert on that—and his take on the various ethical implications of Mellissa Fung’s capture and release. You’ll find the ensuing Q&A here.
Most notably, he told me he doubted the official line that no ransom or prisoners would have been exchanged for Fung’s release. And he rather presciently suggested that Afghan intelligence forces might have employed some, shall we say, un-Canadian techniques in an attempt to to improve the hand they were holding.
They wouldn’t necessarily operate within the same bounds that we would here in Canada. By that I mean, [any] people who were exchanged may not have been, in fact, in captivity when this thing first began. [Afghan forces] may have picked up the suspected relatives of the people they thought were holding [Fung]. A Crown prosecutor’s not going to go out and pick up somebody’s relatives and say, “you turn them over or [else].” They play by different rules, and they know the players.
And indeed, Fung has apparently confirmed in an interview that as far as she understands, “Afghan intelligence had sort of fingered the family of the ringleader of this gang and had arrested a whole bunch of them. … They agreed to release the family if the group would release me, and that’s what ended up happening.”
Insta-update: Aaron Wherry helpfully recaps all the things this does not represent: namely, “ransom,” “any other kind of goods or services passed on, either through a third party or insurers or otherwise,” and “release or exchange of political prisoners.” I suspect the kidnappers’ relatives might differ on that last point, if Fung’s understanding is correct.
By selley - Wednesday, November 12, 2008 at 5:32 PM - 3 Comments
The veteran war reporter on the many questions raised by Mellissa Fung’s kidnapping
Military analyst and award-winning journalist Scott Taylor is well-known for his “unembedded” tours of Afghanistan and Iraq. And he knows more about what can go wrong than he’d like to. Kidnapped in northern Iraq in 2004, he spent five chilling days in the custody of Ansar al-Islam militants. Assistant Editor Chris Selley spoke with him about the kidnapping of CBC’s Mellissa Fung, the wisdom of “negotiating with terrorists,” and the perils of reporting outside the wire in Afghanistan.
Q: Based on what you’ve heard and your own experiences in Afghanistan, do you find anything unusual about the way Mellissa Fung’s kidnapping was pulled off? Or was this a pretty standard scenario?
A: I don’t know if there’s anything really standard about any of these things. There’s certainly categories [of kidnappings]. If it’s motivated for propaganda purposes to drive foreigners out, it’s a separate set of circumstances from those that are looking at this as purely a way of raising cash. [Fung’s kidnappers] didn’t use it for propaganda purposes. At no time did they make this public. So it would seem, from every source we’ve heard, including from Prime Minister Harper’s statements, that it was driven by the desire for ransom right off the bat.
Q: Are you surprised that the media blackout on Fung’s situation held as long as it did?
A: Pleasantly surprised, because all it would take is one guy to go and everybody would have jumped after him. And that would have forced our government’s hand, because [of] this whole position that they’ve taken—they’re still saying we don’t negotiate [with terrorists]. Well, all of us know that they were negotiating at all levels, [doing] every possible thing that they could do, getting all the assurances they could get and cooperation from the Afghan government. If they’d had to come out and make a public statement that they will not pay any money, we would all understand that that’s part of the gamesmanship that gets played for domestic politics. [But the kidnappers] wouldn’t, necessarily. [With a media blackout], there can be quiet assurances to the family: “Look, we’re still talking.” But that might not play out so well in a country when your word is your word.
By selley - Monday, November 10, 2008 at 1:49 PM - 14 Comments
Down to business
In which the audacity of hope meets reality, and a bunch of know-it-all newspaper pundits. Phooey!
The Globe and Mail‘s John Ibbitson looks at the delicate politics of dealing with the ongoing financial crisis when only Barack Obama’s plans really matter, but George W. Bush is still president, and Obama wants nothing less than to be seen to be cozying up to Dubya. “It is the president-elect who has a clear agenda to solve an economic crisis”—i.e., a stimulus package likely costing $100 billion or thereabouts, coupled with bailouts for crappy American automakers—”and who must convince a lame-duck Congress to pass it, and a lame-duck President not to veto it,” Ibbitson observes. And thus far, he says Obama has looked very “presidential” in handling the crisis. But events will dictate whether he’s able to use the recession “to justify strong measures in energy conservation, infrastructure renewal, reform of financial regulations and improvements to health care and education,” or whether he gets swallowed by it whole.
Obama faces much the same economic situation Bill Clinton did when he became president-elect, Terence Corcoran argues in the National Post. “Harold Poling, then chairman of Ford, called on Washington to bail the auto industry out of its health care costs by setting up a national health care system;” some economists demanded a stimulus package, while others urged restraint; and “environmental activists called for strategic taxes on investment to encourage capital to flow into energy efficient and waste-reducing activities.” What happened instead during the Bush-Clinton interregnum was that simple messages and solutions became burdened with complexity, doubt and conflict amongst experts. It “drown[ed] out any Yes We Can belief that solutions are simple and at hand and all that’s needed is a decisive can-do attitude,” says Corcoran. And he sees much the same fate befalling Obama.
By Jonathon Gatehouse and Nicholas Köhler - Thursday, September 25, 2008 at 12:00 AM - 8 Comments
The inside story of how Albertan Amanda Lindhout found herself being held for a US$2.5-million ransom
The online reviews make Mogadishu’s Hotel Shamo sound almost pleasant. “The rooms are large, with air conditionned, wi-fi and electricity 24 h day, [sic]” a Kenyan visitor wrote last December. “The restaurant is extremely decent, and serves lobster when available at the fish market.” And above all, notes the entry, the hotel is “relatively safe”—not a small consideration for travellers to Somalia, a country that stopped functioning so long ago it now qualifies as a “post-failed” state.
Amanda Lindhout, a 27-year-old freelance journalist from Sylvan Lake, Alta., and her friend Nigel Brennan, a 35-year-old Australian photographer, checked in on Aug. 20. They spent two days scouting for stories in the former capital—chasing reports of a roadside bomb aimed at African Union peacekeepers, interviewing shopkeepers at the Bakara market about the almost daily mortar attacks from Islamic insurgents. Then early on the morning of Aug. 23, the pair crammed into a hotel-owned Toyota Land Cruiser for the journey into even more dangerous territory, a camp that houses some of the estimated 400,000 people displaced by the fighting in Mogadishu.
The trip to Afgoyee doesn’t take long— the sprawling refugee shantytown is just 20 km to the northwest—but it is outside the zone controlled by the grandly named Transitional Federal Government (TFG), Somalia’s notional authority. So, at the Sarkus checkpoint on the city’s edge, Lindhout and Brennan bid goodbye to their two AK-47-toting guards, dressed in TFG uniforms, but employed by the hotel for $10 a day. Another security “team” (read members of a different militia) were supposedly waiting for them at the next roadblock, just 1.5 km down the highway. The journalists, their guide, the hotel driver and another local man who hopped in to show them the way disappeared en route. Lindhout had travelled to Somalia hoping to sell stories about the deteriorating security situation and burgeoning humanitarian crisis to networks in Canada and France. Her only television appearance so far has been in a grainy video her captors released to al-Jazeera last week. Dressed in a red abaya, and surrounding by masked and armed men, the Albertan called on the Canadian and Australian governments to work for her and Brennan’s release. A communiqué read by one of her captors called for an end to foreign aggression in Somalia. But the demands transmitted through other channels have been anything but political—US$2.5 million in cold, hard cash.
The video was released by a group calling itself the Mujahideen of Somalia, but according to the clan leader who has been negotiating with the kidnappers, ideology has not entered into the discussions. “They are not Shabaab,” Dahir Farah says by phone from Mogadishu, referring to the al-Qaeda-linked Islamist militia who are the TFG’s main military rivals. “They are not another faction. They are bandits.” Farah, a well-known figure in Mogadishu, says he first heard from Lindhout’s captors on the day of the abductions. Their initial demand was for US$5 million, a sum that he says he convinced them was too high. Despite media reports to the contrary, the negotiator says he has been unable to speak directly with any of the hostages, but has been assured that they are being well looked after. However, Farah is frustrated by what he perceives as a lack of urgency on the part of the Australian and Canadian governments. The Aussies, through their High Commission in Nairobi, Kenya, have flatly refused to pay a ransom. And Farah claims he has heard nothing from Canadian diplomats. “These journalists, they are in very much danger. Your governments, they must take action as soon as possible. Trust me, these kidnappers are not good people.”
Maclean’s has obtained a cellphone number for the men who are holding Lindhout and Brennan. But the magazine decided against contacting the group at this point, for fear of jeopardizing the safety of the captives, or ongoing efforts to free them. Last week, Australia’s Foreign Minister Stephen Smith wrote to his media asking for restraint in their coverage. No such demand has been made by the Canadian government. In fact, in sharp contrast to the Australians, it took Foreign Affairs in Ottawa more than three days to respond to Maclean’s request for their input on the matter. Among the initial concerns expressed by Rodney Moore, a department spokesman, were potential violations of Canada’s Privacy Act, and the possibility of adverse media coverage. Ian Burchett, the director general of communications for Foreign Affairs, says the government is “working with all channels to seek further information about the case, and [the hostages’] welfare and early release.” But he declined to comment on Farah’s allegation of diplomatic indifference. “It’s a very sensitive case,” says Burchett.