Kidnapping And Hostages, Benin, Burkina Faso, National Parks And National Monuments, African Parks, Politics

Kidnapping And Hostages, Benin

After Safari Ends in a Nightmare, Benin Awakens to the Threat of Terrorism

The death of a safari guide has drawn attention to how the terrorism wracking West African nations could also threaten Benin

20.8.2019

The death of a safari guide has drawn attention to how the terrorism wracking West African nations could also threaten Benin

A safari guide knew every watering hole in Pendjari National Park in Benin . He did not know that terrorists across the border could reach him in his country.

Africa Center for Strategic Studies . “The challenge for governments is that the jihadists have in many places been able to address people’s short-term needs for stability and rule of law,” said Corinne Dufka , the West Africa director at Human Rights Watch. Often, militants provide needed order before escalating violence as their ideology takes hold, she said. Similar challenges abound in Benin, where many lack basic services. And instability is growing. A model democracy since 1991, when it transitioned from socialist to democratic rule, has grown increasingly autocratic . “Benin needs to take a hard look at the issues which have made jihadist groups resonate in other countries,” Ms. Dufka said. If not, “as abusive jihadist groups move deeper into West Africa, Benin appears to be the latest potential domino.” Jihadists have pushed south into the three-park complex, where they’ve found food and refuge from air surveillance, said Lori-Anne Théroux-Bénoni, the director of the West Africa office of the Institute for Security Studies, a think tank. Extremists in Burkina Faso and Niger have attacked forestry agents, forcing many to flee that side of the park. On the Benin side, African Parks’ management has revitalized Pendjari. But in doing so, it has sometimes inflamed resentments, for example by enforcing a ban on hunting bush meat, a local practice, even as it issues paid game permits to trophy hunters. Image The guide De Gaulle Panda in the hills above Natitingou, Benin. Since kidnappers took tourists hostage and murdered Mr. Gbédji in early May, Mr. Panda said there have been no tourists for him to take riding. Credit Finbarr O'Reilly for The New York Times Image Washing laundry in a river at the village of Tabougou on the edge of Pendjari National Park. Credit Finbarr O'Reilly for The New York Times Terrorists “understand localized specific vulnerabilities and exploit them,” said Ms. Théroux-Bénoni. Mr. Gbédji stayed well away from the Pendjari River, feeling safe on the Benin side, other guides said. But since the kidnapping, on French and American maps the red zone has ballooned: All of Pendjari is now red. “We are the victims,” said Noël Nabougou, 30, a guide waiting at Hotel Totora in Natitingou, where tourists have canceled en masse. He echoed Benin’s government, which says Pendjari’s inclusion in the danger zone is unwarranted. “If we cut off the park today because of insecurity, it will never open again and jihadists will settle in,” Mr. Nabougou said. “They will consider the park as a no man’s land and use it as a base.” The Kidnapping The French commandos ambushed the kidnappers in Burkina Faso under cover of darkness in early May, said Florence Parly, the French defense minister, at a news conference in Paris the next day. In a firefight, the commandos killed four militants ; two others escaped. Petty officers Cédric de Pierrepont, 32, and Alain Bertoncello, 27, were killed. The French tourists and two other hostages were rescued. The kidnappers were taking the hostages to terrorist cells in Mali, according to the French military. Image Beninese soldiers at their camp in Pendjari National Park. Credit Finbarr O'Reilly for The New York Times Image The grave of Mr. Gbédji in Pendjari National Park, marked by stones laid out in a cross. Credit Finbarr O'Reilly for The New York Times Mr. Gbédji was killed days before the rescue mission, his body found in Burkina Faso around May 5, according to Marcel Ayité Baglo, the general director of Benin’s homeland security agency. Only Mr. Gbédji’s skull and scraps of bone and clothes remained. He was identified by the trousers he wore, Mr. Baglo said. Mr. Gbédji was buried under a pile of stones in the shape of a cross inside the park. The kidnapping is still shrouded in mystery. No terrorist group has claimed responsibility. The French tourists declined interview requests. The French government has not let Benin’s officials interview them, Mr. Baglo said. Experts cautioned that the attack does not necessarily mean that Pendjari has been infiltrated by militants — only that they are trying. “We just don’t know at this point the level of embededness, but it is clearly their strategic objective,” said Ms. Théroux-Bénoni of the security think tank. The Grave In fatigues and berets, members of Benin’s military lay on their bellies in Pendjari’s red dust, blasting paper targets one afternoon in June. Legislators in Cotonou, the political center, had authorized a platoon of 150 soldiers to camp in the park to protect the border. The show of force is to secure the northern frontier, said Mr. Baglo. Image Mr. Gbédji’s sister, Prisca, right, visiting one of his daughters, Jemima Asiel, second from left, in the hospital in Natitingou. Credit Finbarr O'Reilly for The New York Times Image Ms. Kolikpa said she had struggled with suicidal thoughts since her son was killed. Credit Finbarr O'Reilly for The New York Times Benin has taken other steps, including for its large population of Fulani people, nomads that jihadists have recruited in other countries. Over seven years, Benin has built wells, schools and police stations where Fulani live, “so that they can feel Beninese,” Mr. Baglo said. “No country in Africa can protect its borders all alone,” he added. But some in Natitingou fear that the government’s measures are too little, too late. Mr. Gbédji’s sister, Prisca, said that when he was killed, it was the first time she had ever considered that terrorism could come to Benin. Now she believes the threat has taken root. “There is no smoke without fire,” she said. Clutching their mother’s hand in the home her brother built, she said she longs to visit Fiacre’s grave — but never will. She is too afraid of what else may be in Pendjari Park. Constant Meheut contributed reporting from Paris. Read more: The New York Times

Wow this is bad 😭 So are these terrorists hiding out in Burkina Faso? If so, is Burkina Faso (unofficially) sheltering them? Must be racism, amiright? ChineseTerrorism Chinese terrorist authorities demolishing a dome of a mosque. StopIslamophobia stophating StopKillingMuslims WarOnIslam

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