Tuesday, April 25, 2017

A Harvard Doctor Just Won $1 Million For A Project That Could Prevent The Next Deadly Pandemic


Raj Panjabi getting his blood pressure checked by a community health worker

Before the Ebola virus ravaged West Africa, killing thousands and leaving entire towns reeling, it started small. The virus wound its way out of a rainforest-adjacent village in Guinea and spread through other rural areas in Liberia and Sierra Leone, going undetected for months. By the time the world realized what was happening, it was too late to stop the virus's spread.

It's hard to find outbreaks if people aren't actively looking for them. And in rural communities across the world, people lack access to healthcare workers who might be able to detect future Ebola outbreaks — or on a more regular basis, help diagnose and treat problems like pneumonia, malaria and diarrhea.

Dr. Raj Panjabi just won the $1 million TED Prize for an idea that could dramatically increase the number of paid community health workers around the world. The prize is given each year at the TED conference in Vancouver, Canada to make the recipient's "big wish" a reality.

Panjabi is a physician at Harvard Medical School and the co-founder and CEO of Last Mile Health, an organization that expands access to healthcare in remote areas through the hiring of professional community health workers. Panjabi tells Business Insider that he wants to "recruit and train the largest army of community health workers that's ever been known."

He calls his concept the Community Health Academy.

"I want to help countries where they're already working on this to do it at a higher quality and lower cost, to create and curate the best in digital education resources, and to [use] self-learning and online courses to recognize the next outbreak," he says.

All of these steps could reduce unnecessary deaths from treatable diseases and potentially prevent future pandemics, according to Panjabi.

Panjabi grew up in Monrovia, Liberia. He lived what he calls a normal childhood as a math and science geek, until civil war erupted when he was nine years old. The war sent hundreds of thousands of families fleeing, and Panjabi's family ended up moving to North Carolina.

"I wanted to go back to see if I could contribute to serving those we left behind," he says. When Panjabi returned to Liberia in 2005, he discovered the country had the one of the biggest doctor shortages in the world, with just 51 doctors for four million people. The physicians available to see patients were clustered in urban areas, forcing many rural residents to travel over a day to get care.

That's why he started Last Mile Health in 2007 — to bring healthcare to rural areas at a low cost by training paid community health workers to detect and treat diseases. "I believe no one should have to die in the 21st century from lack of access to a doctor or a clinic," he says.

Last Mile Health came into existence at the right time, technologically speaking, since smartphones have made it easier than ever to access medical knowledge without a degree or a lab.

Panjabi gives the example of a child with a shortness of breath. A healthcare worker could check to see if the child has a fever with a digital thermometer, count their breaths using the phone as a smartwatch, and come away knowing whether the child is likely to have pneumonia.

In the next year, Panjabi hopes to use his TED Prize money to set up online training courses for community health workers across the globe. He wants to start in countries with the most dire healthcare shortages (like Liberia).

Online education platform EdX has already committed to working with Last Mile Health on the project. The next step after that is to work with ministries of health in various countries to set up official certifications for trained health workers.

"If we can't understand the value they bring, their labor is undervalued. This would help countries measure training competencies," he says.

Ultimately, Panjabi believes community health work is both an economic and a national security issue. By hiring health workers, governments can create much-needed jobs in rural areas. And as the recent Ebola outbreak revealed, blind spots in rural healthcare lead to diseases that threaten people all over the world.
"You can't bomb Ebola," he says.

(BIAFRA): Alleged Treason: Kanu’s Parents Reject Bail Terms


APRIL 26, 2017

(ABUJA, NIGERIA) -- There was jubilation yesterday in the family home of pro-Biafra agitator Nnamdi Kanu in Umuahia, Abia State. 

But to the family, the bail conditions are “harsh” and should be reviewed by the court. Kanu should be free unconditionally.

Speaking with reporters at his palace at Isiama Afaraukwu Ibeku in Umuahia, Kanu’s father, Eze Israel Kanu, flanked by his wife Ugoeze Sally, called for the unconditional release of his son.

The traditional ruler of Afaraukwu Ineku Umuahia kingdom, however, said he was overjoyed over the news – that his son had been granted bail by the Abuja High Court but insisted that the conditions were impossible.

To the monarch, it sounds illogical for a court in Nigeria to expect a Jewish leader in faraway Israel to stand as surety for a person standing trial in Nigeria, “Why ask him to produce a Jewish leader as surety? Why demand a Senator or Igbo leader who will deposit N100 million? Is N100 million N100.
“It is possible that they are looking for an opportunity to keep him in detention. It is up to the world to look at the bail conditions and see if they are justifiable for a man who has done nothing to warrant being held in prison.”

Eze Kanu urged Ndigbo to “unite and take up the challenge as a people”. He pleaded that other IPOB members standing trial with his son should be released unconditionally.

The elder Kanu said he had always had the faith that his son would one day be released and thanked God that such a day had come.

He hailed Ekiti State Governor Ayo Fayose and former Aviation Minister Femi Fani-Kayode for their solidarity with his son, but frowned at the absence of Igbo leaders at the court premises, saying that was an indication that they were not supporting the Biafra cause.

The IPOB leader’s mother said she had been having sleepless nights while her son was in detention and thanked God for answering her prayers.

Mrs Kanu thanked all those who stood firm for the Biafra cause and prayed for her son’s release, urging them to keep the faith.

Asked if she would advise her son to discontinue his agitation, she cried: “No retreat, no surrender. Biafra is a divine project.”

Kanu’s mother said the arrest of her son popularised the Biafra agitation and vowed to keep supporting the movement. “My son was raised by God to deliver Biafra and as God delivered Israel so he will deliver Biafra because my son is fighting for his right,” she said.

Movement for the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) members described the bail granted to the IPOB leader as the triumph of light over darkness. 

In a release signed by its leader, Uchenna Madu, MASSOB said it had always identified with true representations of Biafra and genuine struggle for the liberation of the people of Biafra. 

The release reads: “I spent almost four years in different prisons from 2005 to 2009 which includes Suleleja, Keffi and Kuje prisons for same purpose of Biafra and was later released. Nnamdi Kanu and others won’t be an exception. He represents the interest of the people of Biafra; he is not a criminal”.
“MASSOB commends the efforts of Igbo governors, Some prominent and eloquent leaders, like Mr Peter Obi, Chief John Nwodo (Ohaneze PG), Governor Fayose, some Igbo National Assembly members, Nzuko Umunna and other progressive persons for their unflinching efforts in compelling the Federal Government to grant Nnamdi Kanu bail.

“As the people of Biafra erupted in jubilation all over the world in celebration of triumph of light over darkness, it shows that we are more united in our pursuit for Biafra actualisation and restoration, irrespective of our different organisations.”

Separatist Nnamdi Kanu got a temporary reprieve yesterday. A Federal High Court in Abuja granted him a N100 million bail on health grounds.

But his parents complained that the conditions were harsh and meant to keep him in detention.

Justice Binta Nyako, in a ruling, noted that the Independent People of Biafra (IPOB) leader had consistently exhibited traits of ill-health in court. He was directed to produce three sureties.

But the trio of Chidiebere Onwudiwe, Benjamin Madubugwu and David Nwawuisi, who are standing trial with Kanu, were not that lucky. The judge rejected their bail.

Justice Nyako said: “I have not also seen any new argument to warrant my reviewing my earlier decision. However, as it relates to the 1st defendant, the applicant has deposed extensively on his health and appeals to the court on health grounds to allow bail on any condition.

“Overtime that the 1st defendant has appeared in court, the 1st defendant may be having some health issues as he always sits down and sweats profusely.

“I am of the opinion that the 1st defendant needs better health attention than the Prison Service is unable to provide.

“Pursuant to this, the bail of the 2nd to 4th defendants, is hereby refused. I hereby use my discretion and grant the 1st defendant bail on the following conditions:

He shall undertake before the court and depose to an affidavit that he shall attend his trial diligently and shall provide three sureties as follows;

All the sureties are in sum of N100 milliom each. One of them must be a highly placed person of Igbo extraction, such as a senator;

Second surety must be highly respected and recognised religious leader in Nigeria of the defendant’s belief. A highly respected Jewish leader;

The third surety must be resident in Abuja, highly respected, with landed property and Certificate of Occupancy verified;

He shall deposit all his international passports, with the court.

“I also want a report of his health status on a monthly basis filed in court,” the judge said.

Justice Nyako directed that Kanu should not grant interviews, organise ralies, and must not be in a crowd of more than 10 people.

The judge had, in an earlier ruling, rejected the defendants’ application for variation of her earlier order granting protection to prosecution witnesses.

She said the defendants had not provided anything new in their earlier argument for the variation of the order.

“My earlier ruling remains as prosecution witnesses, who are security agents, will be protected as their identity will not be disclosed,” Justice Nyako said.

The judge adjourned till July 11 for the opening of the trial. She said the court will take interlocutory applications only in the course of the trial.

There was unusually heavy security deployment in the court.

Inside the courtroom, Department of State Services (DSS) operatives took charge. Regular and riot policemen and Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) officers were on guard outside the court premises.

The atmosphere outside the court premises was tense. Many visitors had a hectic time accessing the court. They were thoroughly frisked before being allowed in.

Those, who could not provide good reasons for their mission to the court, were turned back. The street leading to the court was barricaded with police trucks. A few people, mostly court officials, were allowed to drive in.

The defendants’ sympathisers, who before yesterday were always allowed to stay close to the main gate, were driven far away from the court.

Dressed in various attires, the sympathisers sang and danced, creating a carnival-like scene while the proceedings lasted. When the news was broken that Kanu had been granted bail, they went wild, singing: “We have won, we have won”; and “Bye bye to Nigeria. We told them before that Biafra is real.”

At proceedings were Ekiti State Governor Ayodele Fayose and former Aviation Minister Osita Chidoka.

Another former Aviation Minister, Femi Fani-Kayode, who was in court in respect of his criminal trial, was prevented by security men from accessing the court where Kanu’s proceedings were on going.

At the end of proceedings, Fayose went close to Kanu, hugged him and engaged him in a brief chat.

Fayose said he was in court in solidarity with the Biafra agitators’ leader.

He told the IPOB chief that he will one day walk as a free man.

Fayose said that although he was not Igbo, he came to show solidarity as somebody who believed in justice.

Kanu and others are standing trial on a five-count charge bordering on treasonable felony and managing an unlawful organisation.

They are also accused of conspiracy to broadcast materials intended to secede from the Federal Republic of Nigeria and create a Biafra State.

Aba agog over Kanu’s bail

ABA, the commercial hub of Abia State, had a terrible traffic Jam yesterday.

Vehicular and economic activities were disrupted as residents took to the streets to celebrate the bail granted the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) leader and Radio Biafra Director Nnamdi Kanu by Justice Binta of the High Court in Abuja.

Kanu’s supporters, who converged on the Christ the King Catholic Church’s (CKC’s) gate immediately the news hit the town, marched through the major streets.

Singing pro-Kanu and anti-Federal Government songs, they marched through Asa Road, Azikiwe, Aba-Owerri Expressway, Aba-Ikot Ekpene, Faulks and others.

Sounds of bangers rented the air in Ahia Ohuru (New Market), Shopping Centre, Eziukwu and other markets.

St. Michael’s, Pound Road, Jubilee, and Hospital Road, were also besieged by Kanu’s admirers, who left their shops to join their friends in a drinking spree.

At Ariaria, where Kanu is said to have “die-hard supporters”, traders defied the flooded and near impassible nature of the market to join their counterparts in celebrating the Abuja Court order.

Not a few provided “free drinks” for both customers and fellow traders who joined in the celebration.

Some of the jubilant Biafra supporters, including Dominic Gilbert, said that they were happy that Justice Binta, in whose Kanu had several times complained of lacking confidence, later granted their leader bail.

Gilbert, however, described the bail conditions as “harsh”, stressing that the court could have granted Kanu bail unconditionally.

The factional leader of the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), Uchenna Madu, thanked the Southeast Governors’ Forum for their role in Kanu’s release.

In a statement, Madu, who was once detained for clamouring for the actualisation of Biafra, stated that the realisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra was not going to come on a platter of gold.

The MASSOB leader pleaded for the release of other Biafra agitators languishing in prisons across the country.

The statement reads: “The bail granted to our brother today is a sign of light triumphantly over the darkness. It is a motivational factor that Biafra will always triumph over Nigeria.

“I spent almost four years in different prisons from 2005 to 2009 which includes Suleleja, Keffi and Kuje prisons for same purpose of Biafra and was later released. Nnamdi Kanu and others won’t be an exception. He represents the interest of the people of Biafra, he is not a criminal.”

MASSOB praised the efforts of Igbo governors, some prominent and “eloquent” leaders, like Mr. Peter Obi, Chief John Nwodo (Ohaneze President General), Fayose, some Igbo National Assembly members, Nzuko Umunna and other progressive persons “for their unflinching efforts in compelling the Federal Government in granting Nnamdi Kanu bail.

“As the people of Biafra erupted in jubilation all over the world in celebration of triumph of light over darkness, it shows that we are more united in our pursuit for Biafra actualisation and restoration, irrespective of our different organisations. We know that freedom can never be achieved on a platter of gold.”

Judge Blocks Trump Order On Sanctuary City Funding

APRIL 25, 2017

Lordes Reboyoso, right, yells at a rally outside of City Hall in San Francisco. President Donald Trump moved aggressively to tighten the nation's immigration controls Wednesday, signing executive actions to jumpstart construction of his promised U.S.-Mexico border wall and cut federal grants for immigrant-protecting "sanctuary cities." On Tuesday, April 25, 2017, a federal judge blocked a Trump administration order to withhold funding from communities that limit cooperation with U.S. immigration authorities, saying the president has no authority to attach new conditions to federal spending.

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A federal judge on Tuesday blocked any attempt by the Trump administration to withhold funding from "sanctuary cities" that do not cooperate with U.S. immigration authorities, saying the president has no authority to attach new conditions to federal spending.

U.S. District Judge William Orrick issued the preliminary injunction in two lawsuits — one brought by the city of San Francisco, the other by Santa Clara County — against an executive order targeting communities that protect immigrants from deportation.

The injunction will stay in place while the lawsuits work their way through court. The judge said that President Donald Trump cannot set new conditions for the federal grants at stake. And even if he could, the conditions would have to be clearly related to the funds at issue and not coercive, Orrick said.

"Federal funding that bears no meaningful relationship to immigration enforcement cannot be threatened merely because a jurisdiction chooses an immigration enforcement strategy of which the president disapproves," the judge said.

A Justice Department attorney, Chad Readler, had defended the president's executive order as an attempt to use his "bully pulpit' to "encourage communities and states to comply with the law." The Trump administration had further argued the lawsuits were premature because the government hasn't cut off any money yet or declared any communities to be sanctuary cities.

Meanwhile, mayors from several U.S. cities threatened with the loss of federal grants emerged from a meeting Tuesday with Attorney General Jeff Sessions saying they remain confused about how to prove their police are in compliance with immigration policies — a necessary step for them to receive grant money.

During a recent court hearing, the Trump administration and the two California governments disagreed over the order's scope. San Francisco and Santa Clara County argued that the order threatened billions of dollars in federal funding for each of them, making it difficult to plan their budgets.

But Readler, acting assistant attorney general, said the threatened cutoff applies to three Justice Department and Homeland Security grants and would affect less than $1 million for Santa Clara County and possibly no money for San Francisco.

In his ruling, Orrick sided with San Francisco and Santa Clara, saying the order "by its plain language, attempts to reach all federal grants, not merely the three mentioned at the hearing." "And if there was doubt about the scope of the order, the president and attorney general have erased it with their public comments," the judge said.

The Trump administration says that sanctuary cities allow dangerous criminals back on the street and that the order is needed to keep the country safe. San Francisco and other sanctuary cities say turning local police into immigration officers erodes trust that is needed to get people to report crime.

The order also has led to lawsuits by Seattle; two Massachusetts cities, Lawrence and Chelsea; and a third San Francisco Bay Area government, the city of Richmond. The San Francisco and Santa Clara County lawsuits were the first to get a hearing before a judge.

San Francisco and the county argued that the president did not have the authority to set conditions on the allocation of federal funds and could not compel local officials to enforce federal immigration law.

The sanctuary city order was among a flurry of immigration measures Trump has signed since taking office in January, including a ban on travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries and a directive calling for a wall on the Mexican border.

A federal appeals court blocked the travel ban. The administration then revised it, but the new version also is stalled in court.

GOP Drops US-Mexico Wall Demands As Spending Talks Advance

APRIL 25, 2017

The Capitol is seen at dawn in Washington. Bipartisan bargainers are making progress toward a budget deal to prevent a partial federal shutdown this weekend, a major hurdle overcome when President Donald Trump signaled he would put off his demand that the measure include money to build his border wall with Mexico.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Congressional negotiators on Tuesday inched toward a potential agreement on a catchall spending bill that would deny President Donald Trump's request for immediate funding to construct a wall along the Mexico border. The emerging measure would increase the defense budget and eliminate the threat of a government shutdown on Trump's 100th day in office this Saturday.

Top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer said Republican negotiators were following the lead of Trump, who signaled Monday evening that he would not insist on $1 billion worth of wall funding now as an addition to the $1 trillion-plus spending bill. Trump told a gathering of conservative media reporters that he might be willing to wait until September for the funding.

A remaining stumbling block is a recent threat by Trump to scuttle a portion of former President Barack Obama's health law that helps low-income people afford insurance policies, but the decision by Trump and his GOP allies to back down on the wall steered the talks on the spending measure in a positive direction.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said he was optimistic the talks would produce "an agreement in the next few days." An existing temporary funding bill expires Friday at midnight and all sides anticipated that another stopgap measure would be required to buy time for the House and Senate to process the massive spending bill, which would wrap together 11 unfinished agency spending bills through September.

Trump campaigned throughout the country last year promising a wall across the entire 2,200 mile southern border, promising that Mexico would pay for it. But while the idea is a priority of Trump's most fervent supporters, it is resolutely opposed by Democrats and even many Republicans, who see it as wasteful and who prefer other steps like new technologies and additional border agents to curb illegal immigration.

"I support additional border security funding," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a GOP critic of Trump who dined with the president Monday at the White House. "But a 2,200-mile wall, I don't think there's a whole lot of support for it."

Trump vowed to fight for the wall. "The wall is going to get built," he said at the White House Tuesday. Asked when, he said, "Soon." Democrats vowed not to give up, either, and look forward to the fight.

"It's not a negotiation," Schumer said. "No wall." Meanwhile, Trump appeared poised to procure about $15 billion to boost the military. Democrats said they were satisfied with the emerging outlines of the measure, which stick closely to versions of the legislation that were being negotiated late last year.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., observed that GOP negotiators "have simply ignored" a roster of "$18 billion in extreme cuts" offered by White House budget director Mick Mulvaney to lower the measure's cost, while maintaining foreign aid accounts that Trump has targeted.

Several issues remain unresolved. Democrats, with McConnell's help, were pushing to extend health benefits for 22,000 retired Appalachian coal miners and their families whose medical coverage is set to expire at the end of April. Democrats faced White House opposition in an uphill battle to give Puerto Rico help with its Medicaid commitment, while Republicans are pressing policy "riders" to undo new Obama-era financial regulations.

Democratic votes are invariably needed to pass catchall spending bills, which typically are resented by many tea party Republicans. That gave Democratic leaders like Schumer and Pelosi significant leverage, and the top Democrats had earlier this month taken a hard line in response to Trump's threats to deny the Obamacare payments for out-of-pocket costs for the poor. Schumer said Tuesday, however, that the issue did not have to be addressed in the catchall bill.

Meanwhile, House lawmakers were returning to Washington Tuesday evening and faced a renewed push from the White House to revive their beleaguered health care bill in hopes of attracting enough votes to finally push it through the House.

Both efforts come with Congress back from a two-week break just days before Trump's 100th day in office, an unofficial measuring stick of a new president's effectiveness. With little to show in legislative victories so far, the Trump administration would love to claim achievements on Capitol Hill by that day.

New Orleans Takes Down White Supremacist Monument

APRIL 25, 2017

Workers dismantle the Liberty Place monument Monday, April 24, 2017, which commemorates whites who tried to topple a biracial post-Civil War government, in New Orleans. It was removed overnight in an attempt to avoid disruption from supporters who want the monuments to stay.

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A monument to a deadly white-supremacist uprising in 1874 was removed under cover of darkness by workers in masks and bulletproof vests Monday as New Orleans joined the movement to take down symbols of the Confederacy and the Jim Crow South.

The Liberty Place monument, a 35-foot granite obelisk that pays tribute to whites who tried to topple a biracial Reconstruction government installed in New Orleans after the Civil War, was taken away on a truck in pieces before daybreak after a few hours of work.

In the coming days, the city will also remove three statues of Confederate Gens. Robert E. Lee and P.G.T. Beauregard and Confederate President Jefferson Davis, now that legal challenges have been overcome.

"We will no longer allow the Confederacy to literally be put on a pedestal in the heart of our city," Mayor Mitch Landrieu vowed. The removal of the obelisk was carried out early in the morning because of death threats and fears of disruption from supporters of the monuments.

The workers wore military-style helmets and had scarves over their faces. Police were on hand, with officers watching from atop a hotel parking garage. "The statue was put up to honor the killing of police officers by white supremacists," Landrieu said. "Of the four that we will move, this statue is perhaps the most blatant affront to the values that make America and New Orleans strong today."

Citing safety concerns, the mayor would not disclose exactly when the other monuments would be taken down, except to say that it will be done at night to avoid trouble. He said the monuments will be put in storage until an appropriate place to display them is determined.

Nationally, the debate over Confederate symbols has flared since nine black parishioners were shot to death by an avowed racist at a church in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015. South Carolina removed the Confederate flag from its statehouse grounds in the weeks after, and several Southern cities have since considered removing monuments. The University of Mississippi took down its state flag because it includes the Confederate emblem.

New Orleans is a mostly black city of nearly 390,000. The majority-black City Council voted 6-1 in 2015 to take the monuments down, but legal battles held up action. Landrieu, a white Democrat, proposed the monuments' removal and rode to victory twice with overwhelming support from the city's black residents.

Opponents of the memorials say they are offensive artifacts honoring the region's racist past. Others say the monuments are part of history and should be preserved. Robert Bonner, a 63-year-old Civil War re-enactor, was there to protest the monument's removal.

"I think it's a terrible thing," he said. "When you start removing the history of the city, you start losing money. You start losing where you came from and where you've been." The Monumental Task Committee, which sued to preserve the memorials, condemned the middle-of-the-night removal as "atrocious government."

The Liberty Place monument was erected in 1891 to commemorate the failed uprising by the Crescent City White League. Sixteen White Leaguers, 13 members of the white and black Metropolitan police force and six bystanders were among those killed in the bloody battle down Canal Street.

President Ulysses Grant sent federal troops to take the city back three days later. However, the White League grew in power in New Orleans after the battle, with its members and allies taking over the city and state government after Reconstruction.

An inscription added in 1932 said the Yankees withdrew federal troops and "recognized white supremacy in the South" after the uprising. In 1993, those words were covered by a granite slab with a new inscription, saying the obelisk honors "Americans on both sides" who died and that the conflict "should teach us lessons for the future."

New Orleans removed the memorial from busy Canal Street during a paving project in 1989 and didn't put it back up until the city was sued. Even then, it was consigned to an obscure spot on a side street.

Landrieu said the memorials don't represent his city as it approaches its 300th anniversary next year. Removing the monuments is "not about blame," the mayor said. Rather, it's about "showing the whole world that we as a city and as people are able to acknowledge, understand, reconcile and — most importantly — choose a better future, making straight what has been crooked and right what has been wrong."

Jesse J. Holland covers race and ethnicity for The Associated Press. Contact him at jholland@ap.org, on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/jessejholland or on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/jessejholland .

Associated Press writers Bernard McGhee and Jeff Martin in Atlanta contributed to this report.

An earlier version of this report had an incorrect name for the Liberty Place monument.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Doctor's Arrest Brings Attention To US Female Circumcisions

APRIL 23, 2017

Provided by Mel and Tim Photography, Zehra Patwa poses for a picture, in Atlanta. Zehra Patwa learned a few years ago that at 7 years old, she was taken from her home in England to India for a wedding, and was circumcised in a procedure widely known as female genital mutilation. She doesn't remember, but was no less outraged. Patwa, 46, now lives in the U.S. and campaigns against the practice performed among certain cultures of different faiths and widely within her community called the Dawoodi Bohra, a small, prosperous Shiite Muslim sect of more than a million people based in India with a global presence. (Mel and Tim Photography via AP)

DETROIT (AP) — Zehra Patwa only learned a few years ago that during a family trip to India at age 7, she was circumcised, which is common for girls in parts of Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Patwa, 46, doesn't remember undergoing the procedure, which is also called female genital mutilation or cutting and which has been condemned by the United Nations and outlawed in the U.S. But she doesn't want to.

"I have no desire to get that memory back. ... Psychologically, it feels like a violation, even though I don't remember it," said Patwa, a technology project manager from New Haven, Connecticut, who now campaigns against the centuries-old practice.

The recent arrest of a Michigan doctor accused of performing the procedure on two 7-year-old girls from Patwa's own Shiite Muslim sect, the Dawoodi Bohra, highlights how female genital mutilation is alive and well in parts of the Western world where its adherents have migrated and formed communities.

Depending on the culture, female circumcisions are performed on girls of various ages and by various methods, and they are seen as a way of controlling a girl's sexuality, maintaining her purity or even making her more fertile as she grows into adulthood. Critics, though, say it can cause complications during childbirth, make intercourse painful and eliminate any pleasure a woman can derive from sex.

Dr. Jumana Nagarwala is accused of performing the procedure on two Minnesota girls that left them with scars and lacerations. Her attorney, Shannon Smith, insists that Nagarwala conducted a benign religious ritual that involved no mutilation.

Prosecutors on Friday charged two other Bohras, Dr. Fakhruddin Attar and his wife, Farida Attar, with conspiracy. Fakhruddin Attar owns the Detroit-area clinic where the alleged procedures were performed in February, and investigators say the couple knew Nagarwala was doing the procedures after business hours.

There are more than a million Bohras in the world, most of whom live in India. No one knows how many there are in the U.S., but it's estimated there are about 25,000 and that they have about 20 mosques and gathering places.

Patwa, who is part of the activist group Speak Out on FGM, said that given its clandestine nature, it's hard to estimate how many people perform female circumcisions in the U.S. But there are a small number in the Bohra community who are known by elders and tend to be clustered around large cities with Bohra mosques, she said.

When many Bohra girls are age 6 to 8, their parents approach — or are approached by — a "secret network" of female elders about getting the girls cut. There is then an informal vetting process to make sure a request is legitimate and not an attempt to expose any activities, Patwa said.

"Everybody knows somebody who has gotten their daughter cut ... but nobody wants to rat out their family members or friends," she said. A spokesman for the Syedna, the Bohras' religious head in Mumbai, India, could not be reached for comment. The two men vying to succeed the Syedna, his half brother and the son of a former Syedna, have different views on female circumcision. The half brother says it is time to end the practice of female circumcision. The former Syedna's son, whom most Bohras accept as their new leader, says the tradition must continue and notes that Bohra men are also circumcised.

"Men have to do it, and even women have to do it," Syedna Muffadal Saifuddin said in a speech last year. The World Health Organization said the practice of removing or injuring female genital organs has no known health benefits but has been performed on roughly 200 million women and girls in 30 countries.

Multiple Islamic scholars and experts say the practice is cultural, not based in religious principles. Those who don't have their daughters circumcised are subjected to pressure, and those who do believe they are protecting the girls.

Although Patwa and others describe it as a widespread practice, it's not universally performed among the Bohra. Sahiyo, a Mumbai-based organization that campaigns against the procedure, estimates that about 80 percent of girls within the community have had it done.

She said she attends a Bohra mosque near Boston, which she describes as a welcoming and largely educated and tolerant congregation, but not one in which the procedure they call "khatna" is openly discussed.

"Part of my campaigning is always, 'We have a problem within our community. We can only deal with it as a community," she said. "We can expose it, but other people aren't going to swoop in and help us.'"

Patwa said many Bohra mosques, including hers, have sent letters to members encouraging them not to engage in khatna because it could be considered illegal. But she said some critics don't see this as a serious attempt by mosques to end the practice, but rather as legal cover.

Dr. Mohammed Arsiwala, president and CEO of Michigan Urgent Care and a board member of the Michigan State Medical Society, said he was a Bohra until about five years ago. He has shared his concerns about the procedure through a resolution presented to the state medical group, which adopted a policy several years ago labeling it unethical for doctors to perform.

Jiwajee Bhai Bootwala belongs to the Minneapolis-area Bohra community, which he said consists of about 25 to 30 families. He said he doesn't know of anyone involved in the practice and didn't know about the families who went to Michigan, or if they even belong to his group. Still, he said, the news will spoil his community's image.

"The law for the country is part of your faith," he said. "So we would never do something against the laws of the country."

Associated Press writers Amy Forliti in Plymouth, Minnesota, and Muneeza Naqvi in Mumbai, India, contributed to this story.

Follow Jeff Karoub on Twitter at http://twitter.com/jeffkaroub . His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/author/jeff-karoub .

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Possible Shutdown, Health Care Quagmire Awaiting Congress

SUNDAY, APRIL 23, 2017

A flag flies on Capitol Hill in Washington. Lawmakers return to Washington this week to a familiar quagmire on health care legislation and a budget deadline dramatized by the prospect of a protracted battle between President Donald Trump and congressional Democrats over his border wall.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Lawmakers returning to Washington this coming week will find a familiar quagmire on health care legislation and a budget deadline dramatized by the prospect of a protracted battle between President Donald Trump and Democrats over his border wall.

Trump's GOP allies control Congress, but they've been unable to send him a single major bill as his presidency faces the symbolic 100-day mark on April 29 — the very day when the government, in a worst-case scenario, could shut down.

Feeling pressure to deliver results, Trump wants to revive a troubled health care measure from House Republicans to repeal and replace President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act. Trump also hopes to use a $1 trillion catchall spending bill to salvage victories on his promised U.S.-Mexico border wall, a multibillion-dollar down payment on a Pentagon buildup, and perhaps a crackdown on cities that refuse to cooperate with immigration enforcement by federal authorities.

Congress faces a midnight Friday deadline to avert a government shutdown. But negotiations on the spending measure, a huge pile of leftover business from last year that includes the budgets of almost every federal agency, have hit a rough patch.

Rank-and-file Republicans received few answers on a Saturday conference call by top House GOP leaders, who offered little detail and said deals remained elusive on both health care and the catchall spending measure, with no votes scheduled yet.

It's looking like a one- or two-week temporary measure will be needed to prevent a shutdown and buy time for more talks. Negotiations have faltered because of disputes over the border wall and health law subsidies to help low-income people afford health insurance.

Trump's Capitol Hill allies had been tempering expectations that the president will win much in the budget talks. Democratic support will be needed to pass the spending measure and Republicans fear taking the blame if the government shuts down on their watch.

"We have the leverage and they have the exposure," House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California told fellow Democrats on a conference call Thursday, according to a senior Democratic aide. Pelosi wants the spending bill to give the cash-strapped government of Puerto Rico help with its Medicaid obligations, and Democrats are pressing for money for overseas famine relief, treatment for opioid abuse, and the extension of health benefits for 22,000 retired Appalachian coal miners and their families.

An additional Democratic demand is for cost-sharing payments to insurance companies that help low-income people afford health policies under Obama's health law. The payments are a critical subsidy and the subject of a lawsuit by House Republicans. Trump has threatened to withhold the money to force Democrats to negotiate on health legislation.

Trump's presidential victory makes it "completely reasonable to ask and to insist that some of his priorities are funded," White House budget director Mick Mulvaney said in an interview. "We are more than happy to talk to the Democrats about some of their priorities but we encourage them to recognize that they are a minority party."

Both the White House and Democrats have adopted hard-line positions on Trump's $1 billion request for a down payment on construction of the border wall, a central plank of last year's campaign. Talk of forcing Mexico to pay for it has largely been abandoned. But in an interview with The Associated Press on Friday, Trump stopped short of demanding that money for the project be included in the must-pass spending bill.

Health care is on a separate track and facing trouble, too. The White House is pressing House Republicans to rally behind a revised bill so GOP leaders can schedule a vote this coming week that could let Trump fulfill a 100-days promise.

A quick vote, let alone approval, seems unlikely. GOP leaders have shown no desire to revisit the issue until they're assured they have enough votes to succeed, a point House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., reiterated to lawmakers Saturday, according to participants in the call. An initial attempt in March ended in a legislative train wreck, stinging Trump and Ryan. The measure would have repealed much of Obama's 2010 overhaul and replaced it with fewer coverage requirements and less generous federal subsidies for many people.

As part of the White House drive to resuscitate the bill, members of Trump's team including Vice President Mike Pence and chief of staff Reince Priebus have made multiple calls to Republicans. Two leaders of the House GOP's warring moderate and conservative factions devised a compromise during Congress' recess to let states get federal waivers to ignore some requirements of the health law. Those include one that now obligates insurers to cover specified services such as for mental health, and one that bars them from raising premiums on seriously ill patients.

But there are widespread doubts that the new attempt has achieved the support it needs. Rep. Dan Donovan, R-N.Y., an opponent of the bill, said last week that "it doesn't cure the issues that I had concerns" about. The moderate said his objections included changes to Obama's law that would still leave people with excessive out-of-pocket costs.

The potential amendment was brokered by Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., who heads the conservative House Freedom Caucus and Rep. Tom MacArthur, R-N.J., a leader of the moderate House Tuesday Group. Ryan called off a March 24 House vote on the measure after realizing that objections by conservative and moderate Republicans would have assured its defeat. Democrats were uniformly against the legislation.

Nigeria To Northwestern To The NFL: The Ifeadi Odenigbo Story

APRIL 22, 2017

The Odenigbo family schedule was set that weekend — as it had to be with two sons playing football in the Big Ten.

Linda Odenigbo would head to Lincoln, Nebraska, to watch Illinois and her youngest son, Tito, a defensive lineman, face the Cornhuskers. Her husband, Thomas, would be off to Iowa City, Iowa, where Northwestern and the Odenigbos’ second-oldest son, Ifeadi, a defensive end, would be playing the Hawkeyes.

But something didn’t feel right. Linda knew she had to head to Iowa. The Wildcats had lost three of their first four games, and Ifeadi, in his final season, wasn’t his usual upbeat self.

“He had been having a rough time,” Linda said. “He was just sad. I called up Tito and said maybe I should go to Iowa. . . . Boy, was I glad I went to Iowa.”

If she hadn’t, she would have missed the best game of Ifeadi’s college career: a school-record four sacks and a forced fumble in a 38-21 victory.

“He had career day. There is no question about that,” Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald said of one of his most prized recruits.

It was a dominant display of strength, speed and relentlessness — Ifeadi’s defining moment.

“I thought I was going to lose my mind,” Linda said. “I was just so happy for him.”

New for everyone

Several years earlier, during the high school playoffs in Ohio, Ifeadi was a junior standout for Centerville, a local powerhouse responsible for producing NFL players. Centerville had just scored against Wayne High, which was led by future Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller.

Football might have been new for Thomas as a Nigerian immigrant, but he knew he had to celebrate.

“[He] stood up — all 6-4 of him — and started screaming, ‘Home run! Home run!’ ” Linda said, laughing. “We still tease him about that.”

It’s a favorite family memory from a point in the Odenigbos’ lives when football had started to change them.

The sport wasn’t on the family’s radar when Linda first left Nigeria for the United States with the couple’s oldest son, Somto, in 1992. (Thomas would visit before making his final move three years later.)

With a medical degree from the University of Iloria, Linda did her residency at Harlem Hospital Center in New York. She was pregnant with Ifeadi at the time.

“That tells you about my mom,” Ifeadi said.

Ifeadi was born in New Jersey, and the family also briefly lived in Decatur, Illinois.

Centerville, where their football lives begrudgingly began, didn’t become home until Ifeadi was in first grade. Somto wasn’t allowed to play; Linda and Thomas preferred track, soccer and baseball.

“But [Ifeadi] wouldn’t take no for an answer,” Linda said.

So he struck a deal with his father: Finish with a 3.5 grade-point average or better his freshman year, and he could play football the next season.

“My husband said, ‘Oh, don’t worry about it. When they knock him over twice, he’ll quit,’ ” Linda said. “But that’s how he got into football. And he never quit.”

‘The biggest recruit’

Ifeadi arrived in Evanston under pressure, though he didn’t realize it at first. He was a four-star recruit who’d chosen NU not only over Ohio State but also 31 other schools.

“Little did I know I was going to get all these offers,” he said. “I had Nick Saban calling me. Brian Kelly was coming to my house. Jim Tressel was bringing me into his office.”

Northwestern felt right because of Fitzgerald and the schools’ educational value. After all, Linda is a pediatrician. Thomas is a civil engineer. And Ifeadi also wouldn’t be the first player with Nigerian roots in the NU program.

“Nigerian immigrants are all about academics,” Ifeadi said.

But he soon learned he was a big deal on campus.

“Everyone was always like, ‘Oh, Ifeadi, you’re a four-star. You’re the biggest recruit we’ve ever had,’ ” he said. “I was just like, ‘Dude, I just came here to play football.’ I didn’t think I was going to have all these expectations.”

Adversity struck early. Ifeadi tore his labrum in his first game and was redshirted. He also had to grow physically after joining NU at 205 pounds.

“He had not played a lot of high school football, and a lot of football just in general,” Fitzgerald said. “He knew he had to get into the playbook. He had to learn football. He had to work fundamentally, and he just did that with an open mind.”

But through it all, the pressure grew.

“I just didn’t want to be known as that bust,” he said.

Hearing his own words

The week leading up to the biggest game of Ifeadi’s college career, Wildcats captain Austin Carr asked him to lead the team’s chapel service. Then Fitzgerald, who was happy with Ifeadi’s practices, tapped him to give a speech.

These were challenges at a challenging time. His playing time had decreased early into his final season.

“I was just devastated,” he said.

With his teammates listening, Ifeadi used his favorite Bible passage — John 20:24-31, in which Thomas the Apostle doubts Jesus’ return — as his inspiration. “Stop doubting and believe.”

That was Ifeadi’s message then. Now it’s his life’s approach.

“It really got people fired up,” he said.

Starting with his four sacks at Iowa, Ifeadi finished the season with a conference-best 10 sacks. He was voted first-team All-Big Ten by the conference’s coaches.

As a team, the Wildcats went 6-3 over their last nine games, including a win over Pittsburgh in the Pinstripe Bowl. Ifeadi was rewarded with an invite to the combine.

“Poetic justice — that’s what it felt like,” said Ifeadi, who is second in NU history with 23½ sacks. “I left my legacy here.”

But his story isn’t finished. The NFL is next.

“Last year was a great indication of not only what he’s capable of doing, but also, I think, from an exciting standpoint of what he can become,” Fitzgerald said. “His best football is ahead of him.”

AQIM’s Alliance In Mali: Prospects For Jihadist Preeminence In West Africa

APRIL 21, 2017

AQIM militant in northern Mali (Source: al-Jazeera)

Trends in the two main theaters of jihadist activity in West Africa have moved in al-Qaeda’s favor in recent months. In the Mali/Sahel region, the formation of a new alliance has consolidated al-Qaeda’s position as the preeminent jihadist force in the region, while in Nigeria/Lake Chad, the faction of Boko Haram loyal to Islamic State (IS) — known formally as West Africa Province — has stayed relatively quiet and even shown continued signs of an ideological and logistical disconnect from its parent organization.

With the IS leadership currently in too much disarray in Libya and too distracted in Syria to consistently focus on West Africa, it is unlikely IS will be able to compete in the long-term with al-Qaeda for supremacy over jihadist groups in West Africa. Instead, al-Qaeda’s strategy of “localization” — which it has employed to a greater or lesser extent successfully in theaters such as Syria and Yemen — is likely to see al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) gaining increasing prominence as jihadism in West Africa becomes both more local and more diffuse.

The establishment of the new alliance, Jamaat Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (JNIM, Group of Supporters of Islam and Muslims), in Mali in March 2017 sees al-Qaeda’s “localization” strategy at its most effective. It also demonstrates how adaptable al-Qaeda can be. The group can continue to exist in the region as an umbrella organization, accepting new members and groups tied to it by interpersonal and strategic bonds, while making open affiliation with IS and the massacre of civilians redlines for membership.

Al-Qaeda Alliance in Mali: JNIM

When the al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra merged with Syrian rebel groups to become (or at least appear to become) a more locally rooted organization and reduce its al-Qaeda “branding,” it did so with the approval of a Syria-based deputy of al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. The al-Qaeda leader himself would have rejected such a merger because many of the groups with which Jabhat al-Nusra merged were too secular or outwardly nationalist for al-Zawahiri’s liking. An al-Qaeda insider has revealed that Jabhat al-Nusra’s localization in Syria was nonetheless consistent with al-Qaeda’s overall philosophy, but this specific merger represented an “organizational dispute” with al-Qaeda leadership that, once undertaken, could not be reversed. As a consequence, al-Qaeda’s leadership has subsequently accepted it (s04.justpaste.it, April 4).

In direct contrast, the formation of JNIM in Mali was welcomed wholeheartedly by AQIM leader Abdelmalek Droukdel and al-Qaeda’s General Command, including al-Zawahiri (justpaste.it/14k9a, March 17).

The new alliance brings together leaders of multiple ethnic groups, including: Ag Ghaly, the ethnically Tuareg leader of Ansar Dine who is the overall leader of JNIM; Muhammed Kufa, the ethnically Fulani leader of Ansar Dine sub-affiliate Katiba Macina; Yahia Abu al-Hamam, the ethnically Algerian Arab leader of AQIM’s Sahara Region; the AQIM Islamic law judge Abou Abderrahman al-Senhadji, who is ethnically Berber; and al-Hasan al-Ansari, a Malian Tangara Arab (referring to his clan’s Mauritanian ancestry) who is the deputy leader of al-Mourabitun (al-Masra #42, March 6).

This allows al-Qaeda to portray itself as a pan-Islamic movement unconstrained by tribalism, something particularly important in the context of AQIM’s earlier bias in favor Algerian Arabs.

The inclusion of Kufa’s Katiba Macina group — the name Macina is a reference to a historic Fulani Islamic emirate of central Mali — is a particular boon. Kufa was a leader of the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA) in 2013 when the group controlled parts of northern Mali and began shifting toward central Mali. By bringing him into the JNIM alliance, AQIM can consolidate its presence among Fulanis in central Mali where in previous years it has had limited operations.

The group has so far seen one setback — a key “sub-faction” that had been expected to join JNIM’s orbit, the relatively new Burkina Faso-based Ansaroul Islam, has openly criticized it. Ansaroul Islam’s leader, Mallam Dicko, may suspect JNIM chief Ag Ghaly is an Algerian agent, or be unimpressed by his Salafist credentials, especially considering Dicko appears to be an even more radical Salafi-jihadist than AQIM members (Alakhbar.info, April 16).

Given Ansaroul Islam’s increasingly high level of operations and impact in a part of the Sahel that formerly experienced almost no jihadist activity, it is likely the group has backing from a larger entity (Lemonde.fr, April 9). Burkina Faso says the group’s supporters are members of the former government deposed in a coup in 2016, but it is also possible that the IS faction in northern Burkina Faso under Abu Walid al-Sahrawi, who was also a MUJWA leader, is working with it (Aib.bf, March 24). Indeed, pro-IS channels on social media have announced that a new pledge of allegiance to IS “from the Sahel” will be forthcoming, although they have not identified Ansaroul Islam by name. Al-Qaeda supporters dismiss the reports as a “myth” intended to embellish IS’ strength in the Sahel.

Strengthened Position in Northern Mali

The emergence of JNIM comes as Mali is attempting to implement the Algiers Accord of 2015, a peace deal agreed between the government and armed groups in northern Mali. AQIM’s sustained attacks — or, since March 2017, JNIM’s attacks — undermine the Malian people’s confidence in the agreement. Moreover, JNIM can portray itself as an indigenously rooted alternative if the new regional government’s attempts at bringing together various former rebels fails (Liberation.fr, March 3). Ag Ghaly, familiar with Mali’s political terrain from his former life as a Malian diplomat in Saudi Arabia, which is where he developed his Salafist worldview, can be expected to exploit any failure in the Algiers Accord’s implementation.

The JNIM alliance represents the most effective employment of al-Qaeda’s localization strategy and puts a nail in the coffin of IS’ hopes to grow its own network in West Africa, even if Ansaroul Islam announces a pledge to IS caliph Abubakr al-Baghdadi.

IS can still count as loyal the faction of Abu Walid al-Sahrawi, whose pledge of allegiance to al-Baghdadi was aired by IS in October 2016, as well as that of another former MUJWA commander, Hamadou Kheiry. But al-Sahrawi has been quiet for several months, and Kheiry has done little since announcing his loyalty to IS in 2015.

Both factions would seem to benefit from Ansaroul Islam joining IS, although it is unclear what financial or other benefits they could offer Dicko’s group. It may therefore be the case that a link with Ansaroul Islam is mostly ideological, albeit IS propaganda support could significantly upgrade Ansaroul Islam from the platform it currently uses — Facebook. There could also be a latent MUJWA connection, given that Dicko too is a former member.

Islamic State’s Faltering West Africa Network

Further south in the Nigeria/Lake Chad region, IS has a more effective operational presence, but has seen limited success on the propaganda and ideological end. Its West Africa Province — the Abu Musab al-Barnawi-led faction of Boko Haram — is still loyal to al-Baghdadi, but has issued only a single video since Abu Musab al-Barnawi deposed Abubakr Shekau as leader in August 2016. Even then, that video’s narrative was tailored more toward contextualizing events in Nigeria in order to encourage IS sectarian narratives in Syria and Iraq, rather than inspire jihadists in Nigeria or the Lake Chad region (the video portrayed Iranian and Shia influence in Nigeria, for example) (archive.org, February 13).

While some West Africa Province propaganda photos released by IS have shown its hisba (sharia enforcement) patrols in villages around Lake Chad, West Africa Province’s de-facto reign over territories it has held in northern Borno State since 2014 has otherwise rarely been featured in IS propaganda. Indeed, this may be because West Africa Province is barely governing its territory. Unlike IS, which enforces its social provisions, West Africa Province allows the population in areas it controls to live with little interference, as long as they avoid collaborating with the Nigerian government (Naji.com, March 28).

In addition to the apparent disconnect between West Africa Province and the IS media apparatus, which likely reflects a broader disconnect to IS leadership, the group also appears to be coordinating with various cells in Nigeria that are or were part of Ansaru, the now operationally dormant al-Qaeda sub-group in Nigeria.

Such coordination would be unlikely if these Ansaru members believed West Africa Province was behaving toward the population in the same way IS does in Syria and Iraq. Indeed, evidence from conversations between West Africa Province leaders suggests the main area where West Africa Province does respect IS orders is the kidnapping of women, including the Chibok schoolgirls (Sahara Reporters, August 5, 2016).

West Africa Province leaders claim al-Baghdadi has permitted them to take captive only Christian women, not Muslims, even if the Muslim women are “apostates” who participate in democracy. Shekau, by contrast, considers any apostate — whether Muslim or Christian — to be deserving of enslavement and does not trust the West Africa Province leaders’ claims about relaying al-Baghdadi’s orders on the issue of slavery. In all other respects, West Africa Province appears not to take orders from IS on day-to-day affairs.

Developments in Kogi State

The West Africa Province-Ansaru relationship can be seen most prominently in developments in Nigeria’s Kogi State, which, like virtually all states south of Abuja, has been largely free from attacks since the start of the insurgency in 2009. There have, however, been a small number of notable incidents that show Ansaru is the main group to have a presence there, including:
an ambush by Ansaru in late 2012 on Mali-bound Nigerian troops before the French-led intervention that ousted AQIM, MUJWA and Ansar Dine from northern Mali commenced in 2013 (Vanguard, January 20, 2013);
the arrest of Ansaru leader Khalid al-Barnawi in April 2016 (Vanguard, December 28, 2016); and
a series of raids on bomb-making factories and prison breaks in 2012-2013, although these were not claimed by Ansaru or any other faction (Leadership, April 6, 2012).

Kogi State came back into the spotlight in February 2017 when the Nigerian government reported that a Kogi-based group called the Muslim Brotherhood — with no apparent relation to the Egypt-founded global Islamist group of the same name — had sent fighters for training with IS in Libya.

Some of these fighters are now returning to Nigeria. In February, members of the new group attacked police stations in Okehi, Kogi State, killing two people (thecable.ng, February 10; Premium Times, February 10).

A possible explanation for this Kogi State-Libya nexus is that the Salafist extremist cells that have reportedly been brewing in Kogi for years have finally connected with a broader umbrella jihadist movement, such as IS (Newsrescue.com, October 28, 2015).

It may also be the case that Ansaru cells in Kogi have grown impatient with the operational dormancy of Ansaru, left the group to form the Muslim Brotherhood and then traveled to Libya with West Africa Province’s support (al-Risalah, January 10). The overlap between the Muslim Brotherhood sending fighters to Libya and Ansaru can be seen in reports from the Nigerian security forces in northwestern Nigeria, where Ansaru was formed in 2011, that say at least two Ansaru cells there have been sending fighters to train with IS in Libya (Thenewsnigeria.com.ng, August 22, 2016; Premium Times; February 9, 2016).

While some Nigerians traveled to Libya independently to fight with IS, West Africa Province has likely facilitated others — at least five men and one child have featured in IS propaganda in Libya, and several Nigerian women have been recorded as married to IS fighters.

The reason for this coordination is that West Africa Province, Ansaru and presumably the Muslim Brotherhood share a common ideology, history (West Africa Province’s key leaders were former Ansaru members), area of operations and strategic objectives in Nigeria that make experience and training in Libya mutually beneficial. The West Africa Province-planned attack on the U.S. and UK embassies, for example, which was exposed in April, reflects the long-standing “far enemy” targets of Ansaru (Vanguard, April 12).

In sum, the new Muslim Brotherhood group is likely related to Ansaru and both the Muslim Brotherhood and Ansaru may be cooperating with West Africa Province for mutual gain, regardless of their affiliations.

The State of Play for JAS

Boko Haram’s faction under the leadership of Abubakr Shekau — known as Jamaat Ahlisunnah Liddaawati Wal-Jihad (JAS) — is neither affiliated to al-Qaeda nor IS and is operating independently but keeping a hand extended to IS.

It still claims to be an Islamic State in West Africa and issues video footage with IS branding, even though its films are not made or promoted by IS, and Shekau still declares al-Baghdadi to be the caliph. That aside, West Africa Province (and mainstream Muslims more generally) criticize JAS for its killing of Muslims civilians who Shekau deems to be “apostates” for not joining his group.

JAS has been engaged in a new narrative campaign targeting Nigeria’s Salafists and Ansaru sympathizers. JAS argues that Nigeria’s largest Islamic group, the Salafist/Wahhabist Izala movement, was wrong to have ultimately rejected the preaching of Boko Haram founder Muhammed Yusuf, whose blood JAS says “is valuable to us, more valuable than the blood of all Nigerians, all Nigerians, starting from [Nigerian President Muhammadu] Buhari, his aides, ministers, judges, military and everyone” (Youtube, April 3).

At the same time, JAS has reaffirmed its commitment to Yusuf’s successor, Shekau, who JAS describes as “the strong, courageous one, feared by the West, who is now the biggest threat to Nigeria.” Two other recent JAS videos have focused specifically on JAS attacks in Cameroon. They also, for the first time in JAS’ media output, highlighted French-speaking fighters, suggesting Shekau is trying to break out of his isolation by targeting Nigerian Salafist/Wahhabist and Cameroonians (Youtube, April 1; Vanguard, February 27).

Despite JAS’s “outreach,” West Africa Province’s Abu Musab al-Barnawi — along with his close allies Mamman Nur and Abu Fatima, both of whom used to operate with Ansaru — continues to criticize Shekau’s killing of fellow Muslims (Sahara Reporters, August 5, 2016). This criticism, which is the same as that al-Qaeda levies against IS, suggests there are ideological differences between the leaders of West Africa Province and the leadership of IS, even if for the time being West Africa Province’s belief in the legitimacy of al-Baghdadi’s position as IS caliph supersedes these differences.

Ansaru, for its part, is leaderless and largely inactive operationally, even if its members or former members still engage in jihadist activities. Some supporters still post on Facebook and criticize Shekau. Historically, Ansaru criticized Shekau not only for his killing of Muslims civilians and his bizarre mannerisms — such as a “crotch-scratching” incident during his video claiming the bombing of the Grand Mosque in Kano in November 2014 – but also his apparent heterodoxy (al-Hiddaya, February 10, 2015). For example, Ansaru supporters in a video posted on Facebook declared Shekau as an apostate for saying that Jesus Christ was not born through the word of God (Zalunci Haram, April 1).

Maintaining Preeminence in West Africa

The jihadist landscape of West Africa is prone to shifting alliances. To maintain its pre-eminence in the region, al-Qaeda will attempt to keep the newly formed JNIM clear of IS infiltration and JNIM is unlikely to openly cooperate with any IS-affiliated group.

In the long-term, if West Africa Province withdraws its support for IS — especially if al-Baghdadi dies, or IS loses its territory and there are doubts over the legitimacy of the caliphate — then JNIM could be further strengthened. An IS collapse could see West Africa Province, together with former Ansaru members and Muslim Brotherhood members, re-integrate into al-Qaeda structures and ultimately join JNIM.

Issues such as Ansaroul Islam’s current rejection of JNIM are manageable for JNIM. It seems unlikely that even if the Burkina Faso-based group pledges allegiance to IS it can overshadow JNIM’s operational tempo, even if allied with the other IS factions operating around Burkina Faso.

In Nigeria, JAS is unlikely to re-integrate into al-Qaeda structures unless Shekau is killed. But even that scenario is not so difficult to imagine — an assassination could come at the hands of West Africa Province or by former Ansaru members who tend to know the location of his hideouts. Shekau now refuses to meet with West Africa Province leaders for fear they will plant a tracking device on him (Vanguard, February 24).

The best-case scenario for JNIM — and as such for al-Qaeda — would be if al-Baghdadi dies, the IS caliphate folds and Shekau is killed. In that situation, it would not be inconceivable that JNIM could pull a newly united West Africa Province, JAS, Ansaru and the Muslim Brotherhood into the JNIM fold, likely under new names.

In such a case, Ansroul Islam or any other pro-IS leaning factions would be left marginal and obsolete, and would likely eventually fall into JNIM’s orbit.

Chinese Jihadis' Rise In Syria Raises Concerns At Home

APRIL 22, 2017

ADVANCE TO GO WITH STORY SYRIA CHINESE JIHADIS BY BASSEM MROUE. This frame grab from video provided in August 6, 2016, by Turkistan Islamic Party, a militant website outlet that is consistent with independent AP reporting, shows a fighter from the Turkistan Islamic Party prepares to fire a missile, during a battle against the Syrian government forces, in Aleppo, Syria. Many don't speak Arabic and their role in Syria is little known to the outside world. Chinese fighters of the Turkistan Islamic Party in Syria are organized, battled-hardened and have played instrumental roles in ground offensives against President Bashar Assad's forces in the country's northern regions. ( Militant Website Turkistan Islamic Party, via AP)

BEIRUT (AP) — Many don't speak Arabic and their role in Syria is little known to the outside world, but the Chinese fighters of the Turkistan Islamic Party in Syria are organized, battled-hardened and have been instrumental in ground offensives against President Bashar Assad's forces in the country's northern regions.

Thousands of Chinese jihadis have come to Syria since the country's civil war began in March 2011 to fight against government forces and their allies. Some have joined the al-Qaida's branch in the country previously known as Nusra Front. Others paid allegiance to the Islamic State group and a smaller number joined factions such as the ultraconservative Ahrar al-Sham.

But the majority of Chinese jihadis are with the Turkistan Islamic Party in Syria, whose vast majority are Chinese Muslims, particularly those from the Turkic-speaking Uighur majority native to Xinjiang in China. Their growing role in Syria has resulted in increased cooperation between Syrian and Chinese intelligence agencies who fear those same jihadis could one day return home and cause trouble there.

The Turkistan Islamic Party is the other name for the East Turkistan Islamic Movement that considers China's Xinjiang to be East Turkistan. Like most jihadi groups in Syria, their aim is to remove Assad's secular government from power and replace it with strict Islamic rule. Their participation in the war, which has left nearly 400,000 people dead, comes at a time when the Chinese government is one of Assad's strongest international backers. Along with Russia, China has used its veto power at the U.N. Security Council on several occasions to prevent the imposition of international sanctions against its Arab ally.

Beijing has blamed violence back at home and against Chinese targets around the world on Islamic militants with foreign connections seeking an independent state in Xinjiang. The government says some of them are fleeing the country to join the Jihad, although critics say the Uighurs are discriminated against and economically marginalized in their homeland and are merely seeking to escape repressive rule by the majority Han Chinese.

Abu Dardaa al-Shami, a member of the now-defunct extremist Jund al-Aqsa group, said the TIP has the best "Inghemasiyoun," Arabic for "those who immerse themselves." The Inghemasiyoun have been used by extremist groups such as IS and al-Qaida's affiliate now known as Fatah al-Sham Front. Their role is to infiltrate their targets, unleash mayhem and fight to the death before a major ground offensive begins.

"They are the lions of ground offensives," said al-Shami, who fought on several occasions alongside TIP fighters in northern Syria. Xie Xiaoyuan, China's envoy to Syria, told reporters in November that the two countries have had normal military exchanges focused on humanitarian issues, although Chinese officials have repeatedly rejected the possibility of sending troops or weapons.

In the last year, however, Chinese and Syrian officials have begun holding regular, once-a-month high-level meetings to share intelligence o militant movements in Syria, according to a person familiar with the matter. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to reveal military secrets.

"These people not only fight alongside international terrorist forces in Syria, but also they will possibly return to China posing threat to China's national security," said Li Wei, terrorism expert at China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations and Director of the CICIR Institute of Security and Arms Control Studies.

Rami Abdurrahman who heads the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said there are about 5,000 Chinese fighters in Syria, most of them with the TIP fighters in northern Syria who along with their families make about 20,000. Li, the terrorism expert, said Abdurrahman's numbers are way too high, adding that he believes the number are about 300 Chinese fighters in Syria who brought with them about 700 family members.

"As the control of the passage along the borders between Turkey and Syria is being tightened, it is becoming more difficult for them to smuggle into Syria," Li said. Syrian opposition activists and pro-government media outlets say dozens of TIP fighters have carried out suicide attacks against government forces and their allies and for the past two years have led battles mostly in the north of the country.

The suicide attackers include one known as Shahid Allah al-Turkistani. He was shown in a video released by TIP taken from a drone of an attack in which he blew himself up in the vehicle he was driving near Aleppo late last year, allegedly killing dozens of pro-government gunmen.

In 2015, members of the group spearheaded an attack on the northwestern province of Idlib and captured the strategic town of Jisr al-Shughour on the edge of Assad's stronghold of Latakia region. They reportedly damaged a church in the town and raised their black flag on top of it.

In late 2016, TIP was a main force to briefly break a government siege on the then rebel-held eastern parts of the northern city of Aleppo. The role of the Chinese jihadis in Syria was a topic that Assad spoke about last month in an interview with Chinese PHOENIX TV, saying "they know your country more than the others, so they can do more harm in your country than others."

Unlike other rebel groups, TIP is a very secretive organization and they live among themselves, according to activists in northern Syria. They are active in parts of Idlib and in the strategic town of Jisr al-Shughour, as well as the Kurdish Mountains in the western province of Latakia.

Abdul-Hakim Ramadan, a doctor who was active in Idlib province, said one of his teams was trying to enter a northwestern village to vaccinate children when TIP fighters prevented them from entering, saying only Chinese can go into the area.

Ramadan said unlike other fighters who have come to Syria, the Chinese have not merged into local communities and the language has been a major barrier.

Shih reported from Beijing.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Can The Next French President Chart A New Course For Africa Policy?

APRIL 21, 2017

Supporters of far-right candidate Marine Le Pen during a campaign meeting, Paris, France, April 17, 2017 (AP photo by Kamil Zihnioglu).

On Sunday, France will vote in the first round of a heated presidential election that has domestic and international observers biting their nails. More than ever, the outcome of the French vote will resonate beyond its borders, with implications for the fate of the European Union, the plight of migrants and refugees, and security in the Middle East and Africa.

Terrorism, immigration and the economy have dominated the contentious campaign period. That’s not surprising: Just yesterday, a gunman killed a police officer in Paris; migrant camps have popped up across the country; and unemployment, especially among youth, is soaring. But foreign policy hasn’t been absent from the debate, and nowhere in the world does France have a larger imprint than in Africa.

France’s role in Africa, grounded in its colonial past, is complicated. Upon taking office in 2012, outgoing President Francois Hollande pledged to break with “Francafrique”—a term that refers to the web of close economic, military and political ties Paris has maintained with its former colonies. These cozy relations mean France has often been overly accommodating, critics say, pointing to Paris’ willingness to work with rights-abusing leaders in Chad or the Republic of Congo, for example, or the safe haven the country seems to offer some of Africa’s most corrupt leaders.

Hollande will leave office with unprecedented disapproval ratings that hover at 4 percent, and his Africa record has earned mixed reviews. Critics note that, despite his pledge to transition away from French interference on the continent, France’s presence seems larger, not smaller, at the end of his term, with troops stationed from Senegal to Djibouti and active in hotspots throughout the Sahel. His admirers—and there are some, including WPR columnist Richard Gowan—argue that his deployments in Mali and the Central African Republic helped prevent chaos and improved counterterrorism efforts in Africa.

So, how do the candidates vying to succeed him envision the future of French policy in Africa? As in elections past, each is steadfastly calling for a clean break with Francafrique. “For at least the past two or three presidential elections, the question of a rupture with Francafrique has become a source of public debate,” says Richard Banegas, a professor of political science at Sciences Po, noting that Hollande’s predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy, had made a similar promise with little success. “One gets the impression that France is trapped by its colonial heritage,” Banegas notes, pointing to factors such as economic ties and security interests that render disengagement difficult.

During this year’s campaign, the candidates have proposed drastically different strategies for creating a new model for French engagement in Africa. In late March, far-right candidate Marine Le Pen went to Chad, where she spoke with the 3,000 French troops stationed there and met with Chad’s president, Idriss Deby—a repressive leader with a shoddy human rights record. Le Pen is notorious for her xenophobic rhetoric and is outspoken in her defense of colonialism, and her visit didn’t please everyone. Yet, in an interview with Le Monde, she pledged to make Francafrique a thing of the past, fervently promoting a policy of non-interference. She said she would maintain French counterterrorism operations on the continent, but abolish the CFA franc, a euro-pegged currency used in 14 countries in West and Central Africa guaranteed by the French Treasury. That sort of retrenchment would take place against the backdrop of reinforced national borders and a serious crackdown on immigration from Africa—in perfect continuity with her platform more broadly.

Le Pen also lambasted her opponent, Emmanuel Macron, who during a trip to Algeria in February called France’s colonial past a “crime against humanity”—a comment Francois Fillon, the center-right candidate, similarly condemned.

Like Le Pen, Macron has an Africa policy in line with much of his general platform, which endorses a globalist approach and a robust international role for France. He sees the influx of refugees from Africa as a “European question,” he explained in an interview with Le Monde. Rather than shutting borders, he would focus on economic and institutional development, and curbing human trafficking. That would include significant investments to improve growth, support urbanization, help expand the middle class, protect women’s rights and strengthen civil society. “When I see Africa, I see the continent of the future,” he said, noting its importance in the French-speaking world and in France’s global footprint.

Fillon, meanwhile, has echoed Macron’s calls for economic development while differing dramatically on immigration, calling for annual entry quotas and increased border controls. He also supports maintaining counterterrorism cooperation across Africa, notably in the Sahel. Benoit Hamon, the socialist candidate, would increase humanitarian visas while pushing for social and economic development on the continent.

For his part, the far-left Jean-Luc Melanchon, who has recently surged in the polls, told Le Monde he would review French military operations in Africa, limiting security cooperation to democratic governments and prioritizing training. “We will stop closing our eyes at rigged elections,” he said, calling for an end to Francafrique while stressing the importance of maintaining “la Francophonie,” the network of French-speaking countries around the world. “Africa,” he said, “is a continent of the future for France, and will only remain one if French is largely spoken.”

According to Banegas, the support of some candidates for economic development and conditioned military cooperation is part of a greater recognition that democratization is a prerequisite to growth and stability. So far, this idea has not significantly informed French policy. “We still see a politics not in favor of links with citizen movements, but with repressive regimes, prioritizing security above all else,” he says.

Some positive steps have been taken. In November, Jean-Marc Ayrault, the minister of foreign affairs, met with activists from pro-democracy movements in Burkina Faso, the Republic of Congo, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Senegal and Chad. Support for these movements in part stems from a rejection of France’s outsized influence, potentially creating space to turn a new page on relations.

At the same time, however, “there’s no conversation about the autocratic nature of the regimes,” Banegas says. “France is just doing business.” Absent a shift away from that logic and toward policies that tackle the sources of instability while welcoming those fleeing conflict, decades-old ills will likely continue to plague French policy in Africa.

Karina Piser is an associate editor at World Politics Review.