September 09, 2021

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NEED TO KNOW

NIGERIA

Remember the Children

Gunmen in Nigeria freed nearly a hundred kidnapped school children recently. Families in Nigeria’s north-central Niger State raised $140,000 and handed over motorbikes to pay the gunmen’s ransom.

A relieved Hauwa’u Isa reclaimed her seven children upon their release. “I cannot find a word to express how delighted I am today,” she told CNN. “For the past 88 days, I have been praying not to die without seeing my children.”

Though joyful, the reunions of parents with their abducted children have unfortunately become increasingly common in Africa’s most populous nation and largest economy. In an in-depth Al Jazeera special on the topic, local experts described a kidnapping crisis out of control. Around 1,000 children have been abducted since December. Around 200 children remain captive.

Inspired by Islamic State-affiliated Boko Haram terrorists who abducted hundreds of schoolchildren – the most infamous is the 2014 Chibok kidnapping of 276 school girls – mass abductions are now “a money-spinning industry for armed gangs,” Reuters wrote. The Wall Street Journal devoted an entire podcast to the history and economics of the cottage industry.

The rise of this industry comes as Boko Haram collapses. Last month, more than 1,000 Boko Haram members and their hostages turned themselves in to the Nigerian government in what security officials and mediators called a new chapter in Nigeria’s decade-long conflict that has killed more than 35,000, displaced 2 million and left 24,000 missing, the Journal wrote. Analysts attribute this to the disarray that followed the recent death of the group’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, and attempts by a group of rival extremists, the Islamic State West Africa Province (Iswap), to integrate his fighters into their ranks, Confidence MacHarry, a security analyst in Lagos, told the Associated Press.

The deterioration of Boko Haram has left a vacuum that Iswap and criminal gangs – copying the militant group’s playbook – have been moving to fill in the north of the country, namely kidnappings and terror attacks.

Many of the members of the criminal gangs are reportedly part of the Fulani community, a historically nomadic and cattle-rearing ethnic group spread across West Africa, the Guardian reported. As grazing routes have turned into private land or have disappeared entirely due to desertification, the Fulani have also moved south leading to escalating conflicts with Christian farmers there, the newspaper said.

Meanwhile, a militant movement has arisen among young and disaffected Fulanis, presenting Nigerian leaders in the capital of Abuja with yet another internal security crisis – and the deadliest one in the country.

President Muhammadu Buhari is also grappling with other security issues, namely an uprising in southeastern Nigeria, where the government faces criticism of using excessive violence in cracking down on dissent, including secret detentions and extrajudicial executions, according to Amnesty International. At the same time, the administration is responding to killings and violence reportedly committed by an armed group called the Eastern Security Network (ESN), the armed wing of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), a pro-Biafra movement.

There is a sliver of hope in this chaos and violence.

Last month, as Boko Haram members surrendered, two women appeared among the hostages. They were two of the schoolgirls kidnapped at a boarding school in Chibok seven years ago. Nigerian officials are trying to negotiate with the militants to get the remaining 100 of these “lost children” released even as they are having trouble figuring out who to contact because of the militant group’s demise.

Meanwhile, parents like Yana Galang, 65, whose daughter Rifkau was also kidnapped at the school, told the AP she was thrilled by the return of the two Chibok girls. It means there is a chance she will see her daughter again.

WANT TO KNOW

FRANCE

Trial of the Century

France began a historic criminal trial Wednesday that will try the perpetrators of the November 2015 terror attacks on Paris that killed 130 people and injured 416 others, NBC News reported.

The trial will focus on the coordinated attacks by Islamic State that targeted France’s national soccer stadium, the Bataclan concert hall and cafes. It will include more than 2,000 lawyers, witnesses and survivors of the attack, considered the deadliest on French soil since World War Two.

Twenty defendants will be tried, including Frenchman Salah Abdeslam, the sole surviving militant directly involved in the attacks. Six others will be tried in absentia, including five who are presumed dead and one who is in prison in Turkey.

Abdeslam is believed to have played a key role in the logistics of the operation, including picking up the attackers who had entered Europe as part of the wave of refugees escaping the Syrian civil war, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Most of the other defendants also face terrorism-related charges in supporting and planning the attacks.

Witnesses will include former President François Hollande, former Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, as well as American citizen Helen Wilson, whose boyfriend was killed in the Nov. 13, 2015 attack.

“It’s important to me to stand up and to say that this isn’t OK, and we’re never going to forget,” Wilson told the Journal. She was inside the Bataclan on the night of the attack.

The court proceedings come a year after a French court convicted 14 people of involvement in the January 2015 terrorist attack on the Paris offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and a kosher grocery store.

The trial is expected to last until May.

MEXICO

See You In Court

Mexico’s highest court ruled this week that criminalizing abortion was unconstitutional, a decision that could lead to the legalization of the procedure in the second-largest Catholic country in the world, the New York Times reported.

The Supreme Court challenged a law in the northern state of Coahuila, which had set sentences of up to three years in prison for having an abortion or assisting in obtaining one. The justices struck down the legislation, saying that any criminal penalization of abortion violated Mexico’s constitution.

The verdict was welcomed by many women’s rights and pro-choice advocates but criticized by Mexico’s Catholic Church and conservative politicians. President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, a devout Christian, did not immediately comment on the verdict, saying that the issue was “controversial” and “polemic.”

Analysts noted that the decision doesn’t necessarily make abortion legal but it will allow advocates and individuals to challenge state laws that criminalize the procedure.

It could also influence other Latin American countries to follow suit in making abortion legal: Last year, Argentina legalized the procedure. Meanwhile, in El Salvador, women accused of aborting a fetus can be prosecuted on assault or homicide charges, and face decades in prison, the Washington Post noted.

MYANMAR

Rise Up

Myanmar’s shadow government called on civilians and militias to rise up against the ruling military junta, which took over the country following a coup earlier this year, the Hill reported.

Duwa Lashi La, the acting president of the National Unity Government, urged the junta’s opponents to revolt “in every village, town and city in the entire country at the same time.”

In his 14-point speech, he called on military-appointed leaders to abandon their positions and encouraged security forces to join pro-democracy and ethnic militias to fight against the army.

The Southeast Asian country has been in upheaval since the military took over and booted the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi in February, arresting her and members of the cabinet on a series of charges, most of them trivial.

The current shadow government includes democratically elected legislators, who were prevented from assuming their seats following the coup.

Since February, thousands of protesters have marched peacefully in streets against the junta but the demonstrations have escalated into violent clashes as the army launched crackdowns. Analysts believe that more than 1,000 people have died in the violence.

Military spokesman, Zaw Min Tun, rejected the calls for an uprising, saying the shadow government is attempting to gain recognition from the United Nations General Assembly, which is scheduled to convene next week.

DISCOVERIES

Going Underground

Living on Mars is not the greatest idea.

The red planet lacks a global magnetic field or Earth’s thick atmosphere, causing the planet to be bombarded by high doses of ultraviolet (UV) rays and ionizing radiation from space.

Yet, scientists have found a possible workaround for any future exploration – or colonization – efforts: Cave entrances, reported New Scientist.

Lead author Daniel Viúdez-Moreiras wrote in a study that radiation levels on Mars’s surface are – on average – 900 times higher than those on Earth. However, images taken from the planet’s orbit show what appear to be entrances to caves, which could be used to shield against harmful radiation.

He calculated that the levels of UV radiation inside the caves would drop to around two percent of the levels of the surface. These levels are relatively safe and are high enough to allow organisms that require light to thrive.

However, Viúdez-Moreiras noted that it’s unclear whether the more dangerous ionizing radiation levels would be blocked.

The author explained that geological areas could shield human explorers from the planet’s harsh conditions. He added that the caves could also be the best place to look for the elusive signs of life on Mars.

To date, no lander or rover has explored the Martian caves.

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 222,574,527

Total Deaths Worldwide: 4,596,554

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 5,567,485,331

Countries with the highest number of confirmed cases worldwide as of 4 a.m. ET*

  1. US: 40,456,816 (+0.44%)
  2. India: 33,139,981 (+0.13%)
  3. Brazil: 20,928,008 (+0.07%)
  4. UK: 7,127,630 (+0.54%)
  5. Russia: 6,964,595 (+0.25%)
  6. France: 6,944,797 (+0.09%)
  7. Turkey: 6,556,538 (+0.21%)
  8. Argentina: 5,215,332 (+0.07%)
  9. Iran: 5,210,978 (+0.52%)
  10. Colombia: 4,923,197 (+0.04%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours