Protesters torched a church overnight in the southern Niger city of Maradi after the arrest of a prominent imam who was subsequently freed Sunday, religious and security sources said. Sheikh Rayadoune, the imam of the Zaria mosque in Maradi, was detained Saturday after criticising a proposed law on religious worship as “anti-Islam” a day earlier.
He has appealed to his supporters to end the unrest. The group behind the church attack also burned the pastor’s car, a church official said in a WhatsApp message to parishioners that were sent to journalists.
A local security source confirmed the incident in Maradi’s working-class district of Zaria. Witnesses said that late Saturday youths set up roadblocks and burned tyres in the streets of Niger’s third largest city as news of the imam’s arrest spread.
A police source said that Sheikh Rayadoune had been released Sunday afternoon, adding: “He has acknowledged his mistake and has apologised.” Shortly before his release, the imam published a statement appealing for calm.
“All my supporters must stop burning things and making trouble in town: Islam does not recommend that I have in no way been mistreated by police,” the message said. The imam said he had read a bad translation of the draft law, which had been transcribed from French into Hausa, Niger’s main language.
He added that he would rectify his position at Friday prayers.
Law not ‘anti-Islam
A top interior ministry official said the legislation, designed to lay down official guidelines on worship, was “the fruit of many consultations…There’s nothing anti-Islam in the text.”He said it was aimed at preventing “anarchy and the distortions promoted by obscurantist terrorist groups to gain ground in our country.”
The government adopted a draft bill in late April, saying there was a “total absence of norms” regarding worship in Niger while fundamentalist and extremist tendencies were on the rise.
“To head off risks of abuse seen in other countries … it is vital the state gives itself the means to control practices in the religious sphere,” the statement added. Parliament still has to vote through the text before it becomes law. Niger has experienced several bouts of religious strife in recent years.
Following the publication of cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed in French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo in 2015 ten people were killed in anti-Christian riots in Niamey. Several churches were destroyed in the capital and second city Zinder.
Two UN personnel killed in Benghazi by car bomb
Two members of the UN mission were killed and at least eight others wounded including a child, by a car bomb.
A car bombing in Libya’s eastern city of Benghazi killed two United Nations staff on Saturday, a security official said.
“Two members of the UN mission were killed and at least eight others wounded including a child, by a car bomb” in a shopping area of the Al-Hawari district, the official said.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blast, which happened as a UN convoy was passing through the area.
Benghazi, Libya’s second city and the cradle of the 2011 uprising that overthrew dictator Muammar Gaddafi, was hit by years of violence targeting diplomatic offices and security forces after his fall.
An attack on the US consulate on September 11, 2012, killed US ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.
In 2017, military strongman Khalifa Haftar drove hardline Islamists and jihadists out of Benghazi after a three-year battle.
Haftar, who backs an eastern-based administration that opposes the Tripoli-based unity government, went on to seize Derna, the last city in eastern Libya outside his control.
But bombings and kidnappings have continued.
A May 2018 attack left seven people dead and last month, a car bombing at the funeral of an ex-army commander killed at least four people and wounded more than 30 others.
A Libyan lawmaker is also feared to have been abducted by an armed group in the eastern city, the UN and lawmakers said in July.
Haftar controls most of eastern Libya, and early this year he ordered his self-styled Libyan National Army to purge the south of what he called “terrorist groups and criminals”.
On the heels of that campaign, his LNA launched in April an offensive to take the Libyan capital from the UN-recognised Government of National Accord.
The LNA on Saturday announced a truce around Tripoli for the three-day Muslim festival of Eid Al-Adha, after the unity government conditionally accepted a ceasefire called for by the UN.
Jihadists release video of ‘kidnapped aid worker’ and 5 colleagues in Nigeria
The hostages are believed to be held in the ISWAP enclave on the shores of Lake Chad
Jihadists aligned with the Islamic State group released a video Thursday purporting to show a female aid worker and five male colleagues kidnapped in an attack in northeast Nigeria.
Aid group, Action Against Hunger (AAH) said earlier that one of its staff members along with three health workers and two drivers were missing after their convoy was attacked last Thursday near the border with Niger.
In the three-minute video, a woman wearing a bright blue hijab who says she is the abducted aid worker addresses the camera in English while seated in front of five men she describes as her colleagues.
The footage seen by reporters was released through the same channels as previous videos from the IS-linked Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP).
An employee at another NGO confirmed the identity of the missing aid worker.
Villagers see captives –
The hostages are believed to be held in the ISWAP enclave on the shores of Lake Chad.
Villagers told reporters the kidnapped aid workers were seen with their armed captors passing through the villages of Chamba and Gatafo on the day of their abduction.
ISWAP is a splinter group of Boko Haram that swore allegiance in 2016 to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
It has repeatedly attacked military bases and previously targeted aid workers in northeast Nigeria.
Two female aid workers with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) were murdered by ISWAP last year and an aid worker with the UN children’s agency UNICEF is still being held by the group.
Since 2009, more than 27,000 people have been killed and some two million forced from their homes by the Boko Haram conflict.
Prime Minister under Muammar Gaddafi’s rule freed in Libya
Mahmoudi was arrested in September 2011 as he tried to flee across the border to Tunisia, and was extradited to Libya
Baghdadi al-Mahmoudi, Libya’s last prime minister under ousted dictator Muammar Gaddafi, has been released from jail for health reasons four years after being sentenced to death, Tripoli’s justice ministry said Saturday.
Mahmoudi, in his 70s, was premier when a NATO-backed uprising in 2011 toppled and killed Gaddafi.
He was handed the death sentence in July 2014 along with eight other Gaddafi-era officials including the leader’s son Seif al-Islam, over their alleged role in a bloody crackdown on protesters.
The justice ministry said Mahmoudi was released “for health reasons” at the recommendation of a medical commission “so that he could be treated at specialised medical centres”.
It gave no further details on the nature of his illness or when he was liberated.
Mahmoudi was arrested in September 2011 as he tried to flee across the border to Tunisia, and was extradited to Libya the following year.
During his detention in Tunisia, he claimed that Libya had financed the 2007 election campaign of former French president Nicolas Sarkozy, according to his lawyers.
The French ex-president vehemently denied the allegations, initially made by Seif al-Islam.
But Sarkozy was charged in March 2018 over accusations he accepted millions of euros from Gaddafi.
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