Supreme Court orders inquiry into ethnic violence in Karachi

Al Qaeda claims responsibility for Algeria bomb attack. Sudan announces ceasefire in South Kordofan. Up to 160 killed in Turkish attacks on Northern Iraq. Boko Haram claims responsibility for UN attack. All this and more in today's security briefing...
Josephine Whitaker
30 August 2011

Supreme Court orders inquiry as ethnic violence in Karachi spirals out of control

Pakistan’s Supreme Court has opened an inquiry into a sharp rise in ethnic violence in the country’s commercial capital, where more than 800 people have been killed this year alone.

Karachi has a long history of tension between its two dominant ethnic groups, the Mohajirs – Urdu-speaking descendants of those who migrated from India after partition in 1947 – and the larger Pashtun population. Much of the recent armed violence is reported to be the work of armed gangs linked to rival ethnic and political groups.

Violence has increased dramatically in the last few months, with over 400 people killed since July alone in increasingly bloody and barbaric attacks, designed to instil fear in the population of Karachi. The worst upsurge in violence since the national army was brought in to quell violence on the streets in the 1990s began after the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM) pulled out of a national and provincial coalition with the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP).

The inquiry announced today was sparked by an accusation from a senior figure in Pakistan’s ruling PPP that the MQM, the party representing the Mojahirs, is responsible for fuelling the violence – an accusation strongly denied by MQM.

Although there is much international attention on Pakistan’s internal security situation, most of this attention focuses on Al Qaeda and the Taliban. However, the far more complex and long-running conflict in Karachi may pose a more significant threat to Pakistan’s future: Karachi is the country’s financial centre, and a key trading centre. It is also the main entry point for supplies to US forces in Afghanistan.

Local security forces today suggested that the influx of hundreds of thousands of ethnic Pashtuns fleeing the conflict with the Taliban in northern Pakistan had worsened tensions in Karachi.


Al Qaeda claims responsibility for Algeria bomb attack

Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has claimed responsibility for a suicide bomb attack against a military training academy in the Algerian town of Cherchell which left 18 dead yesterday.

In a statement emailed to AFP in Morocco, AQIM took responsibility for the twin bomb attack, saying that it had targeted Cherchell as “a symbol of the Algerian regime.” The statement, entitled “a gift for Eid,” accused the Algerian government of supporting the regime of Muammar Gaddafi in neighbouring Libya – a charge the government in Algiers has previously denied.

The attack killed sixteen training officers and two civilians, including two Syrian army members and a Tunisian army officer, according to local officials.

Algeria experienced almost twenty years of conflict that killed over 200 000 between security forces and militant Islamist groups after the results of a 1992 general election, won by an Islamist party, were annulled. Although violence has lessened in recent years, yesterday’s attack is the second in less than two weeks. A suicide car bomb hit a police station in the town of Tizi Ouzu just twelve days ago. The Algerian government believes AQIM is exploiting instability in Libya to expand its activities in North Africa.


Sudan announces ceasefire in South Kordofan 

Omar al-Bashir, president of Sudan, on Tuesday announced a unilateral two-week ceasefire in South Kordofan during an unannounced visit to the country’s main oil-producing state last week. This was the president’s first visit to the state since fighting broke out between rebel groups and the national army in June. According to Bashir, “the government is committed to peace” in the state.

However, the United Nations estimates that 200 000 people have fled the violence in South Kordofan in recent months, and called for the investigation of human rights abuses. Rebels say that the fighting began when Sudan’s army tried to disarm groups that had fought alongside the South during the country’s 25-year civil war.

Political tensions had been heightened by a gubernatorial election won by Bashir’s National Congress Party, which opposition politicians allege was rigged. Khartoum has denied these allegations, and accused local armed groups of trying to seize control of the territory.

The Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Movement – North (SPLM-N), the northern wing of the group which fought against Khartoum during the country’s civil war and now governs South Sudan, has voiced scepticism of Bashir’s move, claiming that it is an attempt to deflect attention from abuses and a potential military offensive.


Up to 160 killed in Turkish attacks on N Iraq

The Turkish army announced today that between 145 and 160 Kurdish guerrillas were killed by military air and artillery strikes during August, raising previous estimates of 90-100 deaths. The strikes, the first against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in over a year were retaliation against PKK assaults in Turkey that left 40 security personnel dead in July.

Tensions between Turkey and the semi-autonomous Kurdish region have risen in the past week, after Iraqi Kurdish officials claimed that one Turkish air strike had killed seven civilians, prompting protests in the provincial capital Arbil. Local Kurdish politicians called on Turkey to apologize for the raids, and demanded the closure of Turkish military bases inside Iraqi territory.


Boko Haram claims responsibility for UN attack

Boko Haram, the Islamist sect terrorising north-eastern Nigeria in recent months, this weekend claimed responsibility for a bomb attack on the United Nations’ Abuja headquarters that left 23 people dead on Friday.

The group released a statement claiming responsibility for one of the deadliest attacks on the UN in its history. The statement demanded the release of prisoners and an end to a recent crackdown led by Nigerian security forces in north-eastern Borno state, where the group has been most active.

UN Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro vowed yesterday that the UN would not be deterred from its work in Nigeria, after visiting survivors of the blast. “Such attacks will neither deter us in our work nor win any new sympathisers to whatever (their) cause might be...” Migiro told a press conference in Abuja. Nigeria’s President, Goodluck Jonathan, meanwhile condemned the attack and vowed to track down the perpetrators.

Boko Haram originates in Maiduguri, state capital of Borno, a poor province in Nigeria’s mainly Muslim north. Its stated aim is to enforce sharia law more widely in Nigeria, and the groups has launched many attacks on churches, bars and police stations. This attack on the UN’s Nigeria headquarters marks an increased sophistication in the group’s tactics and an internationalisation of its targets.

As Nigeria’s security forces have battled the rise in Boko Haram attacks in recent months – with mixed success due to their extreme heavy-handedness – analysts have highlighted pervasive poverty in the region. Many of those who carry out Boko Haram’s work have been poor, disillusioned youths in a region that has high poverty, illiteracy and unemployment rates in comparison to the Christian, animist south.

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