- Created on 03 October 2013
Bodies of drowned migrants are lined up in the port of Lampedusa Thursday, Oct. 3, 2013. Tens of people died when a ship carrying African migrants toward Italy caught fire and sank off the Sicilian island of Lampedusa, spilling hundreds of passengers into the sea, officials said Thursday. Many migrants have been rescued, but the boat is believed to have been carrying as many as 500 people. It is one of the deadliest migrant shipwrecks in recent times and the second one this week off Italy: On Monday, 13 men drowned while trying to reach southern Sicily when their ship ran aground just a few meters (yards) from shore at Scicli. (AP Photo/Nino Randazzo, Health Care Service, HO)
ROME (AP) — A ship carrying African migrants to Europe caught fire and capsized Thursday off the southern Italian island of Lampedusa, killing at least 114 people as hundreds were dumped into the sea, officials said. Over 150 people were rescued but about the same number were still unaccounted for.
It was one of the deadliest recent accidents in the perilous Mediterranean Sea crossing that thousands of African migrants make every year, seeking a new life in the European Union. Smugglers charge thousands of dollars a head to slip people into Europe aboard overcrowded, barely seaworthy fishing boats, providing no life vests or other safety features.
"We need only caskets, certainly not ambulances," Pietro Bartolo, chief of health services on Lampedusa, told Radio 24. He gave the death toll at 94 but said it would certainly rise as search operations continued.
"It's an immense tragedy," said Lampedusa Mayor Giusi Nicolini.
Italy's coast guard later said divers saw at least another 20 bodies around the boat, which was now lying on the bottom of the sea.
Lampedusa is closer to Africa than the Italian mainland — a mere 70 miles (113 kilometers) off the coast of Tunisia — and is the frequent destination for smugglers' boats.
The 20-meter (66-foot) boat was believed to be carrying 450 to 500 people, according to the International Organization for Migration. The boat left from Tripoli with migrants from Eritrea, Ghana and Somalia, Italian coast guard spokesman Marco Di Milla told The Associated Press.
Antonio Candela, a government health commissioner, said 159 people had been rescued.
Rescue crews hauled body bags by the dozens off coast guard ships on Thursday and lined them up under multicolored tarps on Lampedusa's docks. At sea, Italian coast guard ships, local fishing boats and helicopters from across the region combed the waters, trying to find survivors.
"Most of them can't swim. Only the strongest survived," said Simona Moscarelli, a legal expert for the IOM in Rome.
Only three of the estimated 100 women on board have been rescued so far and none of the 10 children believed on board were saved, she said. Two of the dead were pregnant.
Cmdr. Floriana Segreto of the Italian coast guard told the AP that "divers of the coast guard have found the boat on the sea floor at a depth of 40 meters (130 feet). At least 20 bodies were seen around the boat. The divers have yet to go inside the boat."
She added they were waiting for the weather to improve before they could recover more bodies.
According to Interior Minister Angelino Alfano, the ship began taking on water during the night after the motor was cut as it neared Conigli island off Lampedusa, a tiny speck of an island closer to Africa than the Italian mainland.
Usually smugglers have cellphones or satellite phones to call for help when they near shore or run into trouble, but this time they didn't. Instead, someone on board set fire to a piece of material to attract the attention of passing ships, only to have the fire spread to the ship itself.
The passengers all moved to one side to avoid the fire, flipping the ship and spilling hundreds of men, women and children into the sea, he said.
Alfano was one of several Italian officials who demanded the 28-nation European Union do more to put an end to the smuggling operations and help border countries like Italy cope.
"Let us hope that the European Union realizes this isn't an Italian problem but a European one," he said, heading to the island to oversee the recovery operation.
Pope Francis, who visited Lampedusa in July to bemoan the frequent deaths of migrants, quickly sent his condolences.
"It is shameful!" he said during an audience at the Vatican.
In a tweet, EU Home Affairs Minister Cecilia Malstrom called for a redoubling of efforts to "fight smugglers exploiting human despair."
Survivors overloaded Lampedusa's reception center, since two other boatloads of migrants landed overnight before the tragedy, one of Syrians and another of Eritreans. Over 1,000 people were squeezed into a space built for 250, Moscarelli said.
Thursday's disaster was the second shipwreck this week off Italy: On Monday, 13 men drowned while trying to reach southern Sicily when their ship ran aground just a few meters (yards) from shore.
While it was the deadliest such incident off Italy in recent times, Moscarelli said there had been similar or greater losses of life farther out at sea and off the Libyan coast in recent years.
Libya, from where the migrants left about two days ago, is a frequent departure point for migrants.
"There are lots of Eritreans in detention centers in Libya," Moscarelli said. "These people are not economic migrants. They are fleeing persecution," often from their military service.
Hundreds of migrants reach Italy's shores every day, particularly during the summer when seas are usually calmer. They are processed in centers, screened for asylum and often sent back home. Those who aren't usually melt into the general public and make their way to northern Europe, where immigrant communities are bigger and better organized.
In Italy, migrants can only work legally if they have a work permit and contract before they arrive — a policy pushed through by Italy's anti-immigrant Northern League party in a bid to stem such illegal crossings.
According to the U.N. refugee agency, 8,400 migrants landed in Italy and Malta in the first six months of the year, almost double the 4,500 who arrived during the first half of 2012.
It's still a far cry from the tens of thousands who flooded to Italy, especially through Lampedusa, during the Arab Spring exodus of 2011.
The numbers, though, have spiked in recent weeks, particularly with Syrian arrivals.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees had recorded 40 deaths in the first half of 2013 for migrants arriving in Italy and Malta, and a total of 500 for all of 2012, based on interviews with survivors. Fortress Europe, an Italian observatory that tracks migrant deaths reported by the media, says about 6,450 people died in the Canal of Sicily between 1994 and 2012.
- Created on 02 October 2013
Bullet-holes pepper the glass door of a shop in the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2013. (AP Photo/Rukmini Callimachi)
NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — A top Kenya government official says four armed assailants can be seen on closed circuit television footage during the terrorist attack on an upscale mall in which at least 67 people were killed, an indication that there may not have been as many attackers as initially believed.
Kenya's government had initially said 10-15 attackers were at the Westgate Mall. Al-Qaida-linked Somali militant group al-Shabab claimed responsibility for the deadly attack there.
The government official spoke on condition of anonymity Wednesday because he is not supposed to comment on an ongoing investigation.
Al-Shabab has threatened more terrorist attacks on Kenya for sending its troops to Somalia.
- Created on 30 September 2013
In this image taken with a mobile phone, rescue workers and family members gather to identify the shrouded bodies of students killed following an attack by Islamist extremist on an agricultural college in Gujba, Nigeria, Sunday, Sept. 29, 2013, Suspected Islamic extremists attacked the Yobe State College of Agriculture early Sunday, gunning down students as they slept in dormitories and torching classrooms, leaving some 50 students dead in the attack according to college Provost Molima Idi Mato. The attack is seen as part of an ongoing Islamic uprising in northeastern Nigeria prosecuted by Boko Haram militants in their declared quest to install an Islamic state. (AP Photo)
POTISKUM, Nigeria (AP) — Suspected Islamic extremists attacked an agricultural college in the dead of night, gunning down dozens of students as they slept in dormitories and torching classrooms, the school's provost said — the latest violence in northeastern Nigeria's ongoing Islamic uprising.
The attack, blamed on the Boko Haram extremist group, came despite a 4 ½-month-old state of emergency covering three states and one-sixth of the country. It and other recent violence have led many to doubt assurances from the government and the military that they are winning Nigeria's war on the extremists.
Provost Molima Idi Mato of Yobe State College of Agriculture told The Associated Press that there were no security forces protecting the college. Two weeks ago, the state commissioner for education had begged schools and colleges to reopen and promised they would be guarded by soldiers and police.
Idi Mato said as many as 50 students may have been killed in the assault that began at about 1 a.m. Sunday in rural Gujba. "They attacked our students while they were sleeping in their hostels. They opened fire at them," he said, adding that most victims were aged between 18 and 22.
Soldiers recovered 42 bodies and transported 18 wounded students to Damaturu Specialist Hospital, 40 kilometers (25) miles north, said a military intelligence official who insisted on anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.
Two of the wounded later died, said Adamu Usman, a survivor from Gujba who was helping at the hospital.
President Goodluck Jonathan condemned the attack in a televised "chat with the media" Sunday night, and questioned the motives of Boko Haram, which wants to impose Islamic law across Nigeria. He said he wondered whether the victims were Muslim or Christian.
Usman said almost all those killed were Muslims, as is the majority of the college's student body.
Jonathan likened the assault to that on Nairobi's premier shopping mall last week, where Islamic extremists from Somalia's al-Shabab movement killed 67 civilians — but only after allowing many Muslims to leave. Boko Haram has said some of its fighters trained with al-Shabab in Somalia.
Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau has said in video addresses that his group wants to end democracy in Nigeria and allow education only in Islamic schools. Boko Haram means "Western education is forbidden."
Its uprising poses the biggest security challenge in years to this country. Nigeria is Africa's biggest oil producer and its most populous nation with more than 160 million people — almost equal numbers of which are Muslims and Christians.
Boko Haram militants have killed more than 1,700 people since 2010.
"Sometimes you need courage" to confront such challenges, Jonathan said, accusing the extremists of choosing soft targets to embarrass his government.
Gov. Ibrahim Gaidam of Yobe state, where the killings occurred, indicated that the military crackdown is ineffective.
"Although there is (an) increase in troop movement and military hardware deployment in the northeast, people are yet to see the kind of action on the ground that effectively nips criminal and terrorist activities in the bud," he said in a statement.
The extremists rode into the college in two double-cabin pickup all-terrain vehicles and on motorcycles, some dressed in Nigerian military uniforms, a surviving student, Ibrahim Mohammed, told the AP. He said they appeared to know the layout of the college, attacking the four male hostels but avoiding the one hostel reserved for women.
"We ran into the bush, nobody is left in the school now," Mohammed said.
Wailing relatives gathered outside the hospital morgue, where workers laid out bloody bodies in an orderly row on the lawn for family members to identify loved ones.
One body had its fists clenched to the chest in a protective gesture. Another had hands clasped under the chin, as if in prayer. A third had arms raised in surrender.
Provost Idi Mato confirmed the school's other 1,000 enrolled students have fled the college.
Most schools in the area closed after militants on July 6 killed 29 pupils and a teacher, burning some alive in their hostels, at Mamudo outside Damaturu.
U.S. President Barack Obama on Tuesday described Boko Haram as one of the most vicious terrorist organizations in the world, speaking at a meeting with Jonathan at which both reaffirmed their commitment to fight terrorism.
The Islamic extremists have killed at least 30 other civilians in the past week, including a pastor and his son. And the military said it killed more than 100 militants and lost 16 soldiers in an attack on an extremist stronghold Sept. 21-22.
Human rights groups have accused Nigeria's military of summary killings of civilians in reprisal attacks and no one knows the fate of hundreds of people detained as suspected militants.
Meanwhile, farmers and government officials are fleeing threats of imminent attacks from Boko Haram in the area of the Gwoza Hills, a mountainous region with caves that shelter the militants despite repeated aerial bombardments by the military.
A local government official said there had been a series of attacks in recent weeks. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared for his life, said Gwoza town was deserted when he visited it briefly under heavy security escort on Thursday.
He said militants had chased medical officers from the government hospital in Gwoza, which had been treating some victims of attacks, and torched three public schools.
More than 30,000 people have fled to neighboring Cameroon and Chad and the uprising combined with the military emergency has forced farmers from their fields and vendors from the markets.
The attacks come as Nigeria prepares to celebrate 53 years of independence from Britain on Tuesday and amid political jockeying in the run up to presidential elections next year. Many northern Muslim politicians say they do not want another term for Jonathan, who is from the predominantly Christian south.
- Created on 27 September 2013
NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) -- Kenya's military caused the massive collapse of three floors of Nairobi's Westgate Mall during the terrorist siege in which at least 67 people died, a top-ranking government official told The Associated Press.
When asked Friday if military action against the hostage-takers caused the collapse, the official answered: "Yes."
The official also confirmed that Kenyan troops fired rocket-propelled grenades inside the mall, but would not say what was used to cause the collapse. The official insisted on anonymity because he was sharing sensitive intelligence information that has not been publicly released.
The top official's confirmation backs up information given to AP by another official on Wednesday, who said soldiers were responsible for the collapse which created a gaping hole in the mall's roof. That official said fired RPGs caused the collapse.
Four huge explosions rocked the mall Monday followed by dark smoke pouring from the shopping center, the likely time that the floors collapsed. The government has not publicly explained what caused the floors to collapse. One official earlier suggested it was caused by a mattress fire inside the Nakumatt department store.
It is believed the collapse of the floors helped to bring an end to the four-day siege at the mall, but it may have killed hostages still inside.
The official who spoke on Friday said autopsies on bodies under the rubble will show if those people were killed by the building collapse or had been slain earlier by the terrorists. The official said bodies are expected to be found after excavation of the roof collapse begins.
Investigators have recovered a vehicle believed to have been used by the terrorists who led the attack at the mall, a top Kenyan government official said Friday.
They are also building the profile of a man who warned a pregnant woman at the mall to flee for her own safety moments before Saturday's attack, he said.
Investigators are tracing the car's ownership after it was retrieved outside the mall, the official said on condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to reveal such details while the investigation is ongoing. Investigators are looking at more vehicles that may have been used by the attackers, he said, but gave no more details.
An Associated Press reporter saw a group of Kenyan and foreign investigators inspecting a silver car parked about 20 meters (yards) from the mall's main entrance on Thursday afternoon. The car's trunk was open as the investigators took pictures and notes, but it was impossible to determine what exactly they were seeing.
Kenyan police have given little information since the attack that shocked this East African nation, saying the investigation has only just begun into the storming of the mall on Saturday by Islamic militants throwing grenades and shooting assault rifles.
It will take investigators at least seven days to comb through the rubble of the mall, where some bodies are believed to be buried, Joseph Ole Lenku, Kenya's interior minister said Wednesday.
The al-Qaida-linked Somali Islamic extremist rebel group al-Shabab has claimed responsibility for the attack, saying Kenya is a legitimate target because it has sent its troops into Somalia to fight the militants.
FBI agents -along with investigators from Britain, Canada and Germany -have been dispatched to investigate the crime scene. There have been no details on what the international team has found so far in the bullet-scarred, scorched mall.
It is possible that some of the attackers escaped during the mass evacuation of civilians from the mall in Nairobi's Westlands neighborhood, the high-ranking Kenyan official told AP Friday.
Kenyan authorities have since increased surveillance at border crossings and at the Nairobi airport, he said. No bodies have been retrieved from under the rubble since Kenya's military secured the building on Tuesday, he said, adding that police are also investigating if the attackers stored ammunition inside the mall hours or even days before the attack.
The Kenyan Red Cross says 61 people remain missing and many worry their bodies may be buried in the destroyed part of the mall - though the government has insisted few victims are believed to still be inside.
The government says at least 67 people were killed in the assault by 12 to 15 al-Shabab militants, including 61 civilians and six security forces. Five militants also were killed, but questions remained about the fate of the remaining attackers and fears persisted that some had managed to escape.