Geopolitics

Meanwhile, In Nigeria ... Reports Of Underreported Terrorism

Meanwhile, In Nigeria ... Reports Of Underreported Terrorism
Patrick Randall

PARIS — As the world watched France taken down by an Islamic terrorist attack last week, and followed live coverage of the nation getting back up with Sunday's historic march through Paris, another devastating wave of terrorism did not get quite as much media attention. Reports that Islamist militants from Boko Haram has killed as many as 2,000 in northeast Nigeria since Jan. 3 are only slowly making their way around the globe.

The difficulty of accessing verified information in the remote areas of this bloody conflict may help explain part of why the world has seemed to ignore these killings. But that's not all, and it is noteworthy that we are speaking about Africa's most populous nation, which last year also became its biggest economy. Searching for local and international sources in English, French and German, here's what we know so far about a brutal start to 2015 in Nigeria.

RAIDS ON MILITARY BASE, TOWNS On Jan. 3, hundreds of Boko Haram jihadists in pickup trucks, vans and motorcycles overran a military base in the northeastern town of Baga, in Borno State. The base served as headquarters for the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF), a coalition of forces from Nigeria, Niger and Chad, although only Nigerian soldiers were in the base, according to Le Monde. It is not known how many soldiers were killed during the raid but the government troops are reported to have quickly abandoned the base. The Borno National Senator Maina Maaji Lawan told the BBC Boko Haram now controlled 70% of Borno State.

On Jan. 9, the city of Damaturu, in the neighboring state of Yobe, was attacked by Boko Haram, a location they have attempted to raid several times these past few years. It is believed the jihadist group lost around 200 men in the attack and did not succeed in capturing the town.

On Jan. 12, Cameroon's Minister of Communication Issa Tchiroma Bakary announced 143 Boko Haram jihadists had been killed in a raid against a military camp held by Cameroon forces near Kolofata, in the north of the country along the Nigerian border, the Cameroon Tribune reports. One Cameroonian soldier was killed and at least four others were wounded.

The Wednesday edition of the Nigerian newspaper Daily Post reports Boko Haram insurgents were being turned back by government soldiers in Biu town, in Borno State. A witness said the town’s youth was also being mobilized to fight the jihadist group in case the military was overpowered. A local resident told the Nigerian daily Premium Times “Our boys have already taken strategic position waiting for them, at the moment, the soldiers are battling them. All we can hear now are gunshots from the direction of the barracks.”

CONFLICTING DEATH TOLLS The Boko Haram militants raided the city of Baga as well as at least 16 neighboring towns, carrying out systematic mass killings until at least Jan. 7. The number of civilians killed varies between 150 — a figure put forward by the Nigerian Ministry of Defense Monday, the Nigerian daily Punch reports — and a dramatic 2,000, according to Amnesty International. The organization described the massacre as possibly the “deadliest in Boko Haram’s history,” in this conflict that started in 2009 in the region. Amnesty called on the Nigerian government to investigate and take action regarding the terrorist group. A senior government official in the area told the BBC that Baga, where 10,000 formerly lived, was now "virtually non-existent."

In the days following the attacks, the high figure of 2,000 killed was put in doubt as it appeared to be solely based on claims, first reported by the BBC, by the government official Musa Buka, from the town of Kukawa, even though Buka was not present in Baga during the raids. Still, as Business Insider reports, the conflict in Nigeria and in the region is undoubtedly one of the deadliest in the world. At least 6,000 were killed in 2014 and around 10,500 since the beginning of 2011.

In a press conference Monday Maj. Gen. Chris Olukolade, a spokesman for the Ministry of Defense, said “this is no time to debate about casualty figures, as the life of any Nigerian is important. As much as drawing attention to the atrocities being committed by terrorists group in Nigeria is most welcome, the need for factual presentation of the situation is equally vital.”

SCARCE TESTIMONIES Rare survivors of the massacre converged into neighboring towns such as Maiduguri, more than 200 kilometers away, where they arrived only several days later. Around 20,000 people were also reported to have crossed Lake Chad and arrived on the other side of the shore, in Chad, according to Le Monde. But large numbers of people, including Nigerian soldiers, were reported to have drowned in the lake. Hundreds are also allegedly stranded on islands of the lake, without food, water or shelter and exposed to the cold and mosquitoes. Testimonies of the massacre are slowly emerging.

The Guardian reports a man who lived on the shore of Lake Chad hid for three days between a wall and his neighbors’ house while insurgents raided the town on Jan. 3. “People fled into the bush while some shut themselves indoors,” he said. The Boko Haram terrorists also “pursued fleeing residents into the bush, shooting them dead.” The man adds he “kept stepping on dead bodies” for five kilometers as he later fled to the village of Malam Karanti, “which was also deserted and burnt.”

A cleric from Baga told Daily Trust the town was “gone” and “everything is in shreds. I don’t think the insurgents would have the courage to remain there themselves because there is no life in Baga. Houses, roadside shops, vehicles, sources of water and anything you can think of have been destroyed,” he added.

According to Paris-based weekly Le Nouvel Observateur, a man who entered the town Monday said it was still occupied by Boko Haram: “The insurgents have set up barricades in the strategic points of the town. There are bodies everywhere. The whole town reeks of decaying corpses.”

AT LEAST 20,000 DISPLACED According to the United Nations, around 20,000 people have now fled to neighboring Chad, Niger and Cameroon in the past two weeks, the quadruple of previous figures that followed similar attacks. Karl Steinacker, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees country representative in Niger, said "we are preparing for things getting much worse, not better.” Altogether, around 200,000 people have fled Nigeria since the conflict began, Reuters reports.

Few newspapers featured the Nigerian massacre — overshadowed by the terrorist attacks in France as their front page this past week. On Tuesday, the South African daily The Star was one of them — Front page via Kiosko

SCHOOLGIRLS USED AS SUICIDE BOMBERS A girl aged around 10 years old killed at least 20 people and wounded many others Saturday in a suicide attack in a crowded market in Maiduguri, Die Welt reports. The following day, bombs hidden on two other young girls detonated in another market in Potiskum, in Yobe State, killing 5, including the girls, and injuring more than 40. The New York Times described such attacks as a “new tactic” in the Islamist group’s terror campaign. “The terrorist group has increasingly employed women as suicide bombers, even as it has stepped up its abductions of girls across northeast Nigeria, including the kidnapping of more than 200 in the town of Chibok last April,” the daily wrote.

THE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION FACTOR The Nigerian presidential and legislative elections set to be held on February 14 and which pits President Goodluck Jonathan and his leading challenger Muhammadu Buhari, could have played a role in the increase of attacks by Boko Haram these past two weeks, the Nigerian daily P.M. News reports. But the U.S. State Department urged Nigeria not to postpone the elections despite horrific violence in the northeast of the country. "Boko Haram has tended to, particularly around something like an election, use political issues or sensitivities to try to enflame tensions," Reuters quoted the State Department Marie Harf as saying. "We have seen that as one of their tactics and that is why it is so important to move forward with the election, because we believe it’s important."

General Buhari, the candidate for the All Progressives Congress and President Jonathan’s main opponent, has pledged his government would secure Nigeria against “all threats,” the Nigerian daily Vanguard reports. As for Goodluck Jonathan, who launched his presidential campaign last week, he is facing heavy criticism for the government’s lack of communication and information about the massacre in Borno State.

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food / travel

The True Horrors Behind 7 Haunted Locations Around The World

With Halloween arriving, we have dug up the would-be ghosts of documented evil and bloodshed from the past.

Inside Poveglia Island's abandoned asylum

Laure Gautherin and Carl-Johan Karlsson

When Hallows Eve was first introduced as a Celtic festival some 2,000 years ago, bonfires and costumes were seen as a legitimate way to ward off ghosts and evil spirits. Today of course, with science and logic being real ghostbusters, spine-chilling tales of haunted forests, abandoned asylums and deserted graveyards have rather become a way to add some mystery and suspense to our lives.

And yet there are still spooky places around the world that have something more than legend attached to them. From Spain to Uzbekistan and Australia, these locations prove that haunting lore is sometimes rooted in very real, and often terrible events.

Shahr-e Gholghola, City of Screams - Afghanistan

photo of  ruins of Shahr-e Gholghola,

The ruins of Shahr-e Gholghola, the City of Screams, in Afghanistan

Dai He/Xinhua via ZUMA Wire


According to locals, ghosts from this ancient royal citadel located in the Valley of Bamyan, 150 miles northwest of Kabul, have been screaming for 800 years. You can hear them from miles away, at twilight, when they relive their massacre.

In the spring 1221, the fortress built by Buddhist Ghorids in the 6th century became the theater of the final battle between Jalal ad-Din Mingburnu, last ruler of the Khwarezmian Empire, and the Mongol Horde led by Genghis Khan. It is said that Khan's beloved grandson, Mutakhan, had been killed on his mission to sack Bamyan. To avenge him, the Mongol leader went himself and ordered to kill every living creature in the city, children included.

The ruins today bear the name of Shahr-e Gholghola, meaning City of Screams or City of Sorrows. The archeological site, rich in Afghan history, is open to the public and though its remaining walls stay quiet during the day, locals say that the night brings the echoes of fear and agony. Others claim the place comes back to life eight centuries ago, and one can hear the bustle of the city and people calling each other.

Gettysburg, Civil War battlefield - U.S.

photo of rocks and trees in Gettysburg

View of the battlefields from Little Round Top, Gettysburg, PA, USA

Unsplash/@nemo23


Even ghosts non-believers agree there is something eerie about Gettysbury. The city in the state of Pennsylvania is now one of the most popular destinations in the U.S. for spirits and paranormal activities sight-seeing; and many visitors report they witness exactly what they came for: sounds of drums and gunshots, spooky encounters and camera malfunctions in one specific spot… just to name a few!

The Battle of Gettysburg, for which President Abraham Lincoln wrote his best known public address, is considered a turning point in the Civil War that led to the Union's victory. It lasted three days, from July 1st to July 3rd, 1863, but it accounts for the worst casualties of the entire conflict, with 23,000 on the Union side (3,100 men killed) and 28,000 for the Confederates (including 3,900 deaths). Thousands of soldiers were buried on the battlefield in mass graves - without proper rites, legend says - before being relocated to the National Military Park Cemetery for the Unionists.

Since then, legend has it, their restless souls wander, unaware the war has ended. You can find them everywhere, on the battlefield or in the town's preserved Inns and hotels turned into field hospitals back then.

Belchite, Civil War massacre - Spain

photo of sunset of old Belchite

Old Belchite, Spain

Belchite Town Council


Shy lost souls wandering and briefly appearing in front of visitors, unexplainable forces attracting some to specific places of the town, recorded noises of planes, gunshots and bombs, like forever echoes of a drama which left an open wound in Spanish history…

That wound, still unhealed, is the Spanish Civil War; and at its height in 1937, Belchite village, located in the Zaragoza Province in the northeast of Spain, represented a strategic objective of the Republican forces to take over the nearby capital city of Zaragoza.

Instead of being a simple step in their operation, it became the field of an intense battle opposing the loyalist army and that of General Francisco Franco's. Between August 24 and September 6, more than 5,000 people were killed, including half of Belchite's population. The town was left in rubble. As a way to illustrate the Republicans' violence, Franco decided to leave the old town in ruins and build a new Belchite nearby. All the survivors were relocated there, but they had to wait 15 years for it to be complete.

If nothing particular happens in new Belchite, home to around 1,500 residents, the remains of old Belchite offer their share of chilling ghost stories. Some visitors say they felt a presence, someone watching them, sudden change of temperatures and strange sounds. The ruins of the old village have been used as a film set for Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen - with the crew reporting the apparition of two women dressed in period costumes - and Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth. And in October 1986, members of the television program "Cuarta Dimensión" (the 4th dimension) spent a night in Belchite and came back with some spooky recordings of war sounds.

Gur Emir, a conquerer’s mausoleum - Uzbekistan

photo of Gur Emir (Tomb of Timur) i

Gur Emir (Tomb of Timur) in Samarkand, Uzbekistan

Chris Bradley/Design Pics via ZUMA Wire


The news echoed through the streets and bazaars of Samarkand: "The Russian expedition will open the tomb of Tamerlane the Great. It will be our curse!" It was June 1941, and a small team of Soviet researchers began excavations in the Gur-Emir mausoleum in southeastern Uzbekistan.

The aim was to prove that the remains in the tomb did in fact belong to Tamerlane — the infamous 14th-century conqueror and first ruler of the Timurid dynasty who some historians say massacred 1% of the world's population in 1360.

Still, on June 20, despite protests from local residents and Muslim clergy, Tamerlame's tomb was cracked open — marked with the inscription: "When I Rise From the Dead, The World Shall Tremble."

Only two days later, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, with the people of Samarkand linking it to the disturbing of Tamerlane's peace. Amid local protests, the excavation was immediately wrapped up and the remains of the Turkish/Mongol conqueror were sent to Moscow. The turning point in the war came with the victory in the Battle of Stalingrad — only a month after a superstitious Stalin ordered the return of Tamerlane's remains to Samarkand where the former emperor was re-buried with full honors.

Gamla Stan, a royal massacre - Sweden

a photo of The red house of Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden

The red house of Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden

Unsplash/@hkblind


After Danish King Kristian II successfully invaded Sweden and was anointed King in November 1520, the new ruler called Swedish leaders to join for festivities at the royal palace in Stockholm. At dusk, after three days of wine, beer and spectacles, Danish soldiers carrying lanterns and torches entered the great hall and imprisoned the gathered nobles who were considered potential opponents of the Danish king. In the days that followed, 92 people were swiftly sentenced to death, and either hanged or beheaded on Stortorget, the main square in Gamla Stan (Old Town).

Until this day, the Stockholm Bloodbath is considered one of the most brutal events in Scandinavian history, and some people have reported visions of blood flowing across the cobblestoned square in early November. A little over a century later, a red house on the square was rebuilt as a monument for the executed — fitted with 92 white stones for each slain man. Legend has it that should one of the stones be removed, the ghost of the represented will rise from the dead and haunt the streets of Stockholm for all eternity.

Port Arthur, gruesome prison - Australia

a photo of ort Arthur Prison Settlement, Tasmania, Australia

Port Arthur Prison Settlement, Tasmania, Australia

Flickr/Eli Duke


During its 47-year history as a penal settlement, Port Arthur in southern Tasmania earned a reputation as one of the most notorious prisons in the British Empire. The institution — known for a brutal slavery system and punishment of the most hardened criminals sent from the motherland— claimed the lives of more than 1,000 inmates until its closure in 1877.

Since then, documented stories have spanned the paranormal gamut: poltergeist prisoners terrorizing visitors, weeping children roaming the port and tourists running into a weeping 'lady in blue' (apparently the spirit of a woman who died in childbirth). The museum even has an 'incidence form' ready for anyone wanting to report an otherworldly event.

Poveglia Island, plague victims - Italy

a photo of Poveglia Island, Italy

Poveglia Island, Italy

Mirco Toniolo/ROPI via ZUMA Press


Located off the coast of Venice and Lido, Poveglia sadly reunites all the classical elements of a horror movie: plagues, mass burial ground and mental institute (from the 1920's).

During the bubonic plague and other subsequent pandemics, the island served as a quarantine station for the sick and anyone showing any signs of what could be Black Death contamination. Some 160,000 victims are thought to have died there and the seven acres of land became a mass burial ground so full that it is said that human ash makes up more than 50% of Poveglia's soil.

In 1922 a retirement home for the elderly — used as a clandestine mental institution— opened on the island and with it a fair amount of rumors involving torture of patients. The hospital and consequently the whole island was closed in 1968, leaving all the dead trapped off-land.

Poveglia's terrifying past earned it the nickname of 'Island of Ghosts'. Despite being strictly off-limits to visitors, the site has been attracting paranormal activity hunters looking for the apparition of lost and angry souls. The island would be so evil that some locals say that when an evil person dies, he wakes up in Poveglia, another kind of hell.

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