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MARCH 24, 2023
At around 1:38 am local time, a coalition base near Hasakah in Deir Ezzor came under attack by Iranian made armed drone. A US contractor was killed in the attack and another contractor, and five US soldiers were wounded. The Pentagon said two of the wounded service members were treated on site, while three others and the injured contractor were transported to medical facilities in Iraq. Shortly after the attack, the US Central Command forces retaliated with multiple air strikes on facilities in eastern Syria used by groups affiliated with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and Syrian forces, which control the area. According to UK based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, that monitors the war in Syria, said that eight pro-Iranian fighters were killed in the American retaliation attacks. The area has seen suspected airstrikes by Israel in recent months allegedly targeting Iranian supply routes.
MARCH 11, 2023
A security guard was killed and eight people, were injured in an IED explosion in the northern city of the Mazar-i-Sharif the capital of Balkh province. The explosion occurred at around 11 a.m. local time as a ceremony honoring the country’s media was underway in the city’s Tabian Farhang cultural center. Though no group had claimed responsibility for the attack, the Islamic State in Khorasan Province (IS-KP) have carried numerous attacks to destabilize the Taliban regime.
MARCH 09, 2023
The Taliban governor of the northern Balkh province, Mohammad Dawood Muzammil, was killed in a suicide attack in his office on the second floor of the governor's compound in the provincial capital, Mazar-e Sharif. The Islamic State in Khorasan Province (IS-KP) claimed responsibility for the attack claiming that one of its soldiers had managed to enter the building and detonate his suicide belt killing the governor and some of his security guards. Muzammil, the most senior Taliban official to be killed since the militants returned to power in 2021, had led the fight against IS-KP in his previous posting as governor of the eastern province of Nangarhar before he was moved to Balkh last October. The Taliban spokesman confirmed that the governor was killed but said that the explosion took place near the office and that a civilian bystander was also killed, and two members of the Taliban’s security forces were wounded in a blast without giving the cause or allege a perpetrator for the explosion.
MARCH 08, 2023
During operation, to rescue the four kidnapped Americans, Mexican security personnel raided a cabin in a rural Ejido Longoreño area located along the road to the local beach known as Playa Bagdad east of the city of Matamoros. The raiding agents located Latavia McGee (33) and Eric James Williams who suffered from a gunshot wound to his leg and the bodies of the two others identified as Shaeed Woodard, Zindell Brown. The four from South Carolina were kidnapped by gunmen on March 3 in the border city of Matamoros shortly after they crossed the border from Texas. The three men escorted McGee, who had an appointment at a clinic to undergo a cosmetic surgery. A 24-year-old man guarding them at the cabin was arrested at the scene. Before they were found, the four had been moved to a succession of locations in the area, including a local clinic in a bid to throw law enforcement off the trail. A 33-year-old bystander Mexican woman was shot to death during the kidnapping ordeal, apparently from a stray bullet. A video circulating on social media purportedly of the kidnapping showed a woman being walked towards a white pickup truck by a group of men with body armor and guns. She was forced into the back before the men dragged in two prone figures. Mexican officials theorize that the kidnapping was a likely case of mistaken identity by the Gulf Cartel, not a direct attack. (reuters.com, 7 March 2023 & independentespanol.com, 8 March 2023)
Mexican and U.S. authorities are working to locate four Americans, three men and one woman, who were shot at by gunmen in northern Mexico and then kidnapped shortly after crossing the border allegedly to buy medication. According to the U.S. embassy to Mexico, the four unnamed Americans were in a white minivan with North Carolina license plates when they entered the city of Matamoros in Tamaulipas state on March 3. The embassy asked the public's help in identifying the alleged kidnappers. The armed men fired on the passengers shortly after their vehicle crossed into Mexico and then forced them into another vehicle before fleeing the scene. A local Mexican was killed during the kidnapping. The FBI is offering a $50,000 reward for the return of the four and the arrest of those involved. Matamoros, located in the northeast of the country, on the border with the United States, is one of the Mexican cities most effected by violence linked to drug trafficking and other forms of organized crime. (reuters.com, 6 March 2023 & ntn24.com, 6 March 2023)
OCTOBER 13, 2016
French journalist Olivier Dubois and U.S. aid worker Jeffery Woodke who had been held hostage in West Africa for more than six years by Islamist militants were released and brought to the airport in the capital Niamey where a press briefing was held. Dubois was kidnapped in Gao, Mali, in April 2021, while Woodke was kidnapped in neighboring Niger in 2016. Dubois had appeared in a video last August urging authorities to do everything they could to free him from his captors. Woodke, a Christian humanitarian worker, thanked God as well as the Nigerien, U.S. and French authorities for helping with his rescue. Niger's interior minister Hamadou Adamou Souley told journalists that after several months of efforts, Nigerien authorities obtained the liberation of the two hostages from the hands of Jama'at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (JNIM) - an Al-Qaeda affiliate terrorist group operating in West Africa and the Sahel. The circumstances of the two men's release were not immediately clear. A senior U.S. official said there were no direct negotiations with the militant organization that held Woodke, and no ransom or so-called quid pro quo was part of his release. Speaking to reporters on condition of anonymity, the official said it was not entirely clear where Woodke was held during his captivity but that he was known to have been in multiple locations and multiple countries. Kidnappings are a relatively common tactic by Islamist insurgents linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State, which have gained ground across the Sahel region over the past decade, killing thousands and uprooting over two million people in the process. (reuters.com, 20 March 2023 & npr.org, 20 March 2023)
The wife of Jeff Woodke, an American humanitarian worker, who was kidnapped in Niger five years earlier that her husband's captors have made a multimillion-dollar ransom demand, but U.S. government “restrictions” have hindered her ability to raise the sum. Els Woodke said she believes her husbandis in the custody of a West African affiliate of al-Qaida known as JNIM and that she received information indicating he was alive as of this summer. She said the group's leader, Iyad Ag Ghali, has a history of negotiating for the release of hostages and she pleaded directly with him to free her husband. She also expressed her discontent with aspects of the U.S. government’s approach. She said she has been repeatedly told over the years that if she discloses details about her husband’s case, she will be cut off from receiving additional information. Woodke was kidnapped from his home in Abalak, Niger, in October 2016 by men who ambushed and killed his guards and forced him at gunpoint into their truck and driven north toward Mali's border. Though initiallybelieved to have been kidnapped by a West African affiliate of the Islamic State, Woodke is now thought to be in Africa's vast Sahel region and held by JNIM, according to his wife. Els Woodke urged the government of Mali to make the release of her husband and other hostages held by JNIM a precondition of negotiations with the group. She also urged Secretary of State Antony Blinken to make good on his promise in February that he “would not take any options off the table" in her husband's case. (usnews.com, 6 July 2021)
Talking to reporters, the Interior Minister, the country security forces had tracked the movement of the American aid worker kidnappers into neighboring Mali. The official added that the kidnappers were driving towards the Menaka region, which is controlled by the al-Qaeda linked Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUAJO). The official stated that based on the kidnappers direction, authorities suspect that MUJAO members carried out the kidnapping of Jeffery Woodke or his abductors handed him over to the group. (afp.com, 16 October 2016)
At around 8 p.m. local time, a group of unidentified gunmen kidnaped a 55-year-old US aid worker, Jeffery Woodke, working for a local NGO called JEMED outside his home in the town of Abalak in the Tahoua region close to the border of Mali. The gunmen shot and killed the man’s bodyguard and a police officer after which they striped him down to his underwear, making sure he was not wearing a tracking device, before forcing him onboard their 4x4 pickup truck, which sped towards the Malian border. Though no group claimed responsibility for the kidnapping, both the Nigerian based Boko Haram Islamists group and the al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), which has kidnapped several Europeans in Niger, operate in the region. The man reportedly lived in Niger since 1992. (cnn.com, 14 October 2016 & m.rfi.fr, 14 October 2016 & northcoastjournal.com, 15 October 2016)