Angry demonstrators in Niger set fire to churches and vandalized Christian shops during massive protests in response to the latest issue of the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo. The new issue—the first since radical Islamic gunmen killed 12 people during an attack on the publication’s Paris office—depicted Islam’s Prophet Muhammad, an act many Muslims view as offensive. Over the course of two days this weekend, police and protestors clashed in several cities across the country. A French cultural center was also burned. Though reports of casualties vary, Bloomberg says that as many as 10 people were killed in the violence. In a televised statement, Niger President Mahamadou Issoufou said, “We can’t accept this to be in the name of our religion. We condemn this unrest.” Demonstrations in several other West African nations remained mostly peaceful ... Discuss
As part of an effort to train at least 5,000 rebels in Syria over the course of the next year, the Department of Defense is sending 400 troops to the region. It’s not clear yet where they will be based, but several nearby countries have offered to host them. The move comes after Defense officials met with Syrian opposition leaders in Turkey to discuss their fight against ISIS militants, who have taken over large swaths of Syria and Iraq. In recent months, the U.S. has deployed 3,000 troops to train Kurdish and Iraqi military forces, who are also engaged in the conflict with ISIS. In a statement, a Pentagon spokeswoman said, “These introductory meetings were an important step as we prepare to launch the train-and-equip program later this spring with our international partners” ... Discuss
According to Amnesty International, a blogger and rights activist in Saudi Arabia has been whipped 50 times by officials for “insulting Islam.” Raif Badawi is set to be publicly flogged 20 more times to complete his sentence of 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison imposed by a court last year. His wife told CNN that his arrest—which happened in 2008—came after her husband created an online discussion group to talk with others about religion. In a statement, Amnesty International's deputy director for the Middle East said, “Raif Badawi is a prisoner of conscience; his only 'crime' was to exercise his right to freedom of expression by setting up a website for public discussion.” Officials from the U.S. and other human rights organizations have condemned the punishment and called for the activist’s release ... Discuss
More than 3.7 million people—including a large group of world leaders—attended a unity march in France this weekend, following three days of violence set off by the shootings at the offices of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo. The attacks by a small group of Islamic radicals left 17 people dead. The irreverent Paris-based newspaper is known for their cartoons skewering radical Islam that feature images some consider offensive. As they marched, the crowds chanted “freedom” and “Charlie” as a show of solidarity with the paper. President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry faced criticism for not attending the event, though Kerry responded, saying, "This is sort of quibbling a little bit in the sense that our assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland was there and marched, our ambassador was there and marched, many people from the embassy were there and marched” ... Discuss
The radical Islamic militant group Boko Haram may have killed as many as 2,000 people during a series of raids on villages in Northern Nigeria. Amnesty International claimed it may be the "deadliest massacre" in the history of the terror group. Many of the victims are said to be women, children and elderly residents who could not flee fast enough. On Saturday, militants from Boko Haram took over a local military base, and have since stormed nearby areas, slaughtering residents before burning the communities to the ground.
A counterterrorism official told NBC that the estimated death toll of 2,000 "may not be that far off." Even those who managed to escape the initial attacks are in grave danger. From NBC, “Many survivors fled into the nearby waters of Lake Chad, where some drowned and where others remain marooned on small islands, menaced by hippos.” A spokesperson from the Nigerian government claimed in a statement, “Security forces have responded rapidly, and have deployed significant military assets and conducted airstrikes against militant targets" ... Discuss