Abuja, Jan 29 (AP/UNB) — Amid growing criticism, Nigeria's information minister denied on Monday that the president's recent suspension of the country's chief justice was related to the upcoming presidential elections.
The suspension of Chief Justice Walter Nkanu Samuel Onnoghen had "nothing to do with the forthcoming elections" and did not "signify the onset of dictatorship or tyranny as some have insinuated," Minister Lai Mohammed said.
The chief justice faces trial on charges of allegedly failing to declare his assets, which Onnoghen has argued is without merit. This is the first time a chief justice is standing trial in Nigeria, Africa's most populous country with 190 million people.
Critics say the suspension of the chief justice just three weeks before the election is an effort by President Muhammadu Buhari to weaken Nigeria's judiciary and pave the way for his election to a second term in the Feb. 16 vote.
The chief justice plays a key role in any legal challenge to what could be a disputed vote.
The Nigerian Bar Association called the suspension an "attempted coup against the Nigerian judiciary" this weekend and the president's rival called the suspension "an act of dictatorship" meant to influence the election.
The U.S., Britain and the European Union said Saturday that Buhari acted "without the support of the legislative branch." The U.S. warned this suspension could "cast a pall" over the Feb. 16 vote, in which Buhari seeks a second term.
Buhari said the chief justice's suspension will continue until the case is concluded and has appointed an acting chief justice, Ibrahim Tanko Muhammed. Muhammed is from Nigeria's largely Muslim north, like Buhari, while Onnoghen is from the largely Christian south.
The information minister dismissed the uproar as "theater of the absurd," accusing the opposition of "muddying the waters" and acting in "hysteria."
Presidential spokesman, Garba Shehu, said Monday the president broke no laws in the suspension and "has done no wrong."
With tensions ahead of the vote, observers warned against election-related violence.
Oil-rich Nigeria struggles against multiple security challenges, including the decade-old Boko Haram extremist insurgency, and Buhari's 2015 election was a rare peaceful transfer of power. Diplomats have urged the top candidates to sign a peace pledge.
Harare, Jan 22 (AP/UNB) — Zimbabwe's president calls violence by security forces "unacceptable" and says it will be investigated after a week of economic crisis and crackdown in which activists said a dozen people were killed.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa on Tuesday called for a "national dialogue" among political parties. He spoke upon returning home after skipping a visit to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland to deal with unrest.
Zimbabwe's military was in the streets last week for the first time since post-election violence in August in which six people were killed. This time, people reported being hunted down in their homes by security forces and severely beaten.
Mnangagwa says chaos and insubordination will not be tolerated and "if required, heads will roll."
He defends the dramatic fuel price increase that began the unrest.
Nairobi, Jan 17 (AP/UNB) — The death toll from an extremist attack on a luxury hotel and shopping complex in Nairobi climbed to 21, plus the five militants killed, police said Wednesday in the aftermath of the brazen overnight siege by al-Shabab gunmen. Two people accused of facilitating the attack were arrested.
The number of those killed at the DusitD2 complex rose with the discovery of six more bodies at the scene and the death of a wounded police officer, said Joseph Boinnet, inspector-general of Kenyan police. Twenty-eight people were hurt and taken to the hospital, he said.
In a televised address to the nation earlier in the day, President Uhuru Kenyatta announced that the all-night operation by security forces to retake the complex was over and that all of the extremists had been killed.
"We will seek out every person that was involved in the funding, planning and execution of this heinous act," he vowed.
In an attack that demonstrated al-Shabab's continued ability to strike Kenya's capital despite setbacks on the battlefield, extremists stormed the place with guns and explosives. Security camera footage released to local media showed a suicide bomber blowing himself up in a grassy area in the complex, the flash visible along with smoke billowing from the spot where he had been standing.
Of the civilian victims, 16 were Kenyan, one was British, one was American and three were of African descent but their nationalities were not yet identified, police said.
Al-Shabab, which is based in neighboring Somalia and allied with al-Qaida, claimed responsibility. The Islamic extremist group also carried out the 2013 attack at Nairobi's nearby Westgate Mall that killed 67 people, and an assault on Kenya's Garissa University in 2015 that claimed 147 lives, mostly students.
While U.S. airstrikes and African Union forces in Somalia have degraded the group's ability to operate, it is still capable of carrying out spectacular acts of violence in retaliation for the Kenyan military's campaign against it.
The bloodshed in Kenya's capital appeared designed to inflict maximum damage to the country's image of stability and its tourism industry, an important source of revenue.
The government said late Tuesday that buildings were secure. However, gunfire continued into Wednesday morning, and dozens of trapped people were rescued overnight. Several loud booms were heard Wednesday as teams sought to clear the complex of booby traps and other explosives.
Kenyatta's announcement that the security operation was complete came about 20 hours after the first reports of the attack.
The Kenyan Red Cross said about 50 people were unaccounted for. But many of those were believed not to have been in the complex during the attack.
Ken Njoroge, CEO of a company in the DustiD2 complex that offers mobile banking services, said he was unable to locate several employees. "It's very difficult for the families because the passage of time only makes the problem bigger," he said.
The American killed in the attack was identified as Jason Spindler, co-founder and managing director of San Francisco-based I-DEV International. Spindler's father, Joseph, said his son worked with international companies to form business partnerships in Kenya that would boost local economies.
The Houston-raised Spindler had a brush with tragedy on 9/11: He was employed by a financial firm at the World Trade Center at the time of the 2001 terrorist attack but was running late that morning and was emerging from the subway when the first tower fell, according to his father. He became covered in dust and debris as he tried to help others, the elder Spindler said.
In the Nairobi attack, a man who gave only his first name, Davis, described how he had escaped with colleagues by fleeing down a fire escape.
"It's a traumatic experience. It shakes you," he said. Still, Davis said he was impressed by the "inner strength" and compassion of people who helped each other in the midst of danger.
His own thoughts, he said, were: "Get people out and get out yourself. That's it."
Nairobi, Jan 16 (AP/UNB) — Extremists stormed a luxury hotel in Kenya's capital on Tuesday, setting off thunderous explosions and gunning down people at cafe tables in an attack claimed by Africa's deadliest Islamic militant group. A police officer said at least 15 people had died.
"It is terrible. What I have seen is terrible," said Charles Njenga, who ran from a scene of blood, broken glass, burning vehicles and pillars of black smoke.
Al-Shabab — the Somalia-based group that carried out the 2013 attack at the nearby Westgate Mall in Nairobi that left 67 people dead — claimed responsibility for the carnage at the DusitD2 hotel complex, which includes bars, restaurants, offices and banks and is in a well-to-do neighborhood with many American, European and Indian expatriates.
A Kenyan police officer said 15 bodies had been taken to the morgue. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters. The U.S. State Department confirmed that an American citizen was among those killed, but did not release the victim's identity. Al-Shabab asserted that 47 people were killed but its Shahada news agency post gave no details.
Authorities sent special forces into the hotel to flush out the gunmen. Late Tuesday night, about eight hours after the siege began, Interior Minister Fred Matiang'i said all of the buildings affected had been secured and that security forces were mopping up.
"I would like to reiterate that the situation is under control and the country is safe," he said.
However, more gunfire was heard about an hour later, Kenyan broadcaster NTV reported. Some family members said they had been in touch with loved ones still hiding inside the complex, waiting to be rescued.
Early Wednesday, Kenya's interior ministry said a tweet that all buildings had been secured and there was no further threat to the public.
Authorities did not say how many attackers there were — or what happened to them — though Kenya's Citizen TV aired security-camera footage that showed at least four heavily armed men in dark-colored, paramilitary-style gear.
A police officer who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media said bodies were seen in restaurants downstairs and in offices upstairs, but "there was no time to count the dead."
A witness who gave his name only as Ken said he saw five bodies at the hotel entrance. Other people were shouting for help and "when we rushed back to try to rescue them, gunshots started coming from upstairs, and we had to duck because they were targeting us and we could see two guys shooting," he said.
The coordinated assault began with an explosion that targeted three vehicles outside a bank, and a suicide bombing in the hotel lobby that severely wounded a number of guests, said Kenya's national police chief, Joseph Boinnet.
Survivors reported hearing a shattering blast and saw people mowed down by gunmen as they sat in a cafe. Victims were left slumped on tables.
"We were changing our shifts, and that is when I heard a loud blast and people were screaming," said Enoch Kibet, who works as a cleaner at the cafe and managed to crawl out a basement gate. "I couldn't believe I was alive. The blast was so loud and shook the whole complex."
Kenyan hospitals appealed for blood donations even as the number of wounded remained unclear.
Associated Press video from inside the hotel showed Kenyan security officers searching the building and scared workers emerging from hiding while gunfire could still be heard. Some climbed out a window by ladder. One man got up from the floor where he appeared to be trying to hide under a piece of wood paneling, then showed his ID.
As officers searched luxury fashion displays, wounded people were carried away on stretchers.
Like the attack at the Westgate Mall, this one appeared aimed at wealthy Kenyans and foreigners. It came a day after a magistrate ruled that three men must stand trial in connection with the Westgate Mall siege.
Al-Shabab has vowed retribution against Kenya for sending troops to Somalia to fight it since 2011. Tuesday's violence came three years to the day after al-Shabab extremists attacked a Kenyan military base in Somalia, killing scores of people.
The al-Qaida-linked group has killed hundreds of people in Kenya. In the deadliest attack, al-Shabab claimed responsibility for an assault on Kenya's Garissa University in 2015 that killed 147 people, mostly students.
The latest carnage demonstrated al-Shabab's continued ability to carry out spectacular acts of bloodshed despite a dramatic increase in U.S. airstrikes against it under President Donald Trump.
Tourism — an important source of revenue in Kenya, East Africa's largest economy — has suffered because of the violence.
Gunfire could be heard for hours after Tuesday's attack began. Some people ducked behind cars, screaming, while others took cover behind fountains and other features at the lush complex. A bomb disposal unit was called in, and police blew up a car they said had explosives inside. A grenade was seen in a hallway.
Dozens of people were rushed to safety as plainclothes officers went from shop to shop in the complex. Some people held up their hands to show they were unarmed.
A Kenyan intelligence official said the country had been on high alert since November, with information about potential attacks on high-profile targets in Nairobi. The official was not authorized to talk to the media and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Despite the repeated attacks, the Kenya-Somalia border remains porous, with al-Shabab extremists able to easily bribe their way across, according to a U.N. panel of experts.
The hotel complex in Nairobi's Westlands neighborhood is about a mile (2 kilometers) from Westgate Mall on a relatively quiet, tree-lined road in what is considered one of the most secure parts of the city. The hotel's website says it is "cocooned away from the hustle and bustle in a secure and peaceful haven."
On Monday, the hotel promoted its spa by tweeting: "Is your new year off to a rough start?"
Nairobi, Jan 15 (AP/UNB) — Extremists attacked a luxury hotel in Kenya's capital Tuesday, sending people fleeing in panic as explosions and heavy gunfire reverberated through the complex and black smoke rose over the scene. A witness reported seeing at least two bodies.
Al-Shabab — the Somalia-based extremist group that carried out the 2013 Westgate Mall attack in Nairobi that left 67 people dead — claimed responsibility and said its members were still fighting inside.
"It is terrible. What I have seen is terrible. I have seen a human as I ran out and there is what looks like minced meat all over," said a man who ran from the scene, Charles Njenga.
It was not clear how many attackers took part, but the bloodshed appeared to fit the pattern of attacks al-Shabbab often carries out in Somalia's capital, with an explosion followed by a group of gunmen storming the place.
Several vehicles burned, and people were rushed, some carried, from the scene. At least one was on a stretcher. Some ducked behind cars, screaming. Others appeared to take cover behind fountains and other features at the lush complex, which includes the DusitD2 hotel, along with bars, restaurants, banks and offices.
Kenya's national police chief, Joseph Boinnet, said it appeared to be a terror attack.
"We are aware that armed criminals are holing up in the hotel, and special forces are now currently flushing them out," Boinnet said. He did not confirm any deaths and or say how many were wounded.
A witness, Robert Murire, said he saw at least two bodies at the scene, along with attackers wearing green and wrapped in ammunition.
The attack came a day after a magistrate ruled that three men must stand trial on charges they were involved in the Westgate Mall siege. A fourth suspect was freed for lack of evidence.
Gunfire continued several minutes after the first reports as ambulances, security forces and firefighters converged on the scene. A bomb disposal unit arrived, and vehicles were cordoned off for fear they contained explosives.
Police said they blew up a car that had explosives inside. An unexploded grenade was also seen in a hallway at the complex.
Security forces hurried out a large group of women, one of them still in curlers. Dozens of others were rushed to safety as plainclothes officers went shop to shop in the complex. Some people held up their hands to show they were unarmed.
Al-Shabab has vowed retribution against Kenya for sending troops to Somalia since 2011. The al-Qaida-linked group has killed hundreds of people in Kenya, which has been targeted more than any other of the six countries providing troops to an African Union force in Somalia.
The attack immediately reminded many Kenyans of the Westgate Mall attack, when al-Shabab extremists burst into the luxury shopping center, hurling grenades and starting a days-long siege.
The hotel complex in Nairobi's Westlands neighborhood is less than 2 kilometers from Westgate Mall and lies on a relatively quiet, tree-lined road in what is considered one of the most secure areas of the city. The hotel's website says it is "cocooned away from the hustle and bustle in a secure and peaceful haven."
The attack came three years to the day after al-Shabab extremists attacked a Kenyan military base in Somalia, killing scores of people.