The UN has confirmed that 20 peacekeepers have been captured near the Golan heights by armed Syrian rebel fighters who call themselves the “Martyrs of Yarmouk” brigade.
“The UN observers were on a regular supply mission and were stopped near Observation Post 58, which had sustained damage and was evacuated this past weekend following heavy combat in close proximity, at Al Jamlah,” the United Nations said in a statement. The UN has since sent a team in to assist with the resolving the situation.
The brigade seized the soldiers who were stationed in the buffer zone between Israel and Syria on Wednesday evening and warned that if they was no response to their demands within 24 hours, they would treat the peacekeepers as hostages.
The “Yarmouk” rebels are demanding that Syrian president Bashar Assad’s forces retreat from a strategic area near the village of Jamlah in return for the release of the convoy. In a video that was posted online, a member of the brigade accuses the UN forces of collaborating with Assad’s forces to push the rebels out of Jamlah.
English-speaking jihadis seen in Mali, as a Canadian is reported to have co-ordinated Algeria attack
Canada is today investigating an allegation by the Algerian Prime Minister that one of its citizens co-ordinated the terror raid at the Saharan gas plant in which dozens of hostages were killed.
Westerners, including a man with blond hair and blue eyes, are believed to have been among the Islamist militants who launched last week’s attack on the Tigantourine complex near Algeria’s border with Libya.
A French jihadist, previously unknown to authorities, and two Canadians are suspected to have been involved in the hostage-taking, and reports also claim that a man with a Western accent was among the extremists who lured terrified gas workers from their rooms during the hostage crisis.
Five suspected members of the Islamist group which held foreign and local workers hostage at an Algerian gas plant have been arrested, reports say.
The reports came a day after the Algerian authorities said all 32 hostage-takers had been killed at the In Amenas gas installation.
At least 25 bodies were found at the complex on Sunday, reports say.
It is unclear whether they were captors or captives. Officials say a definitive death toll will be released later.
On Saturday officials said least 23 staff at the facility had died during the four-day siege, with some Western workers still unaccounted for.
The siege was ended in a raid by troops on Saturday.
Officials said the army launched its assault after Islamist militants began killing foreign hostages.
UK Prime Minister David Cameron and US President Barack Obama have blamed “terrorists” for the hostages’ deaths.
Continue reading the main story
We are ready to negotiate with the west and the Algerian government, provided they stop their bombing of Mali’s Muslims”
Profile: Mokhtar Belmokhtar
Terror threat to last ‘decades’ - UK
And on Sunday French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian described the hostage-taking as an “act of war”.
Algerian special forces stormed a natural gas complex in the middle of the Sahara desert on Saturday in a “final assault” that ended a four-day-old hostage crisis, according to the state news agency and two foreign governments. At least 19 hostages and 29 Islamist militants have been killed.
The report, quoting a security source, didn’t say whether any hostages or militants remained alive, and it didn’t give the nationalities of the dead.
It said the army was forced to intervene after a fire broke out in the plant and said the militants killed the hostages. It wasn’t immediately possible to verify who killed the captives.
Seven hostages and 11 militants were killed in Saturday’s operation, adding to the previous tally of 12 captives and 18 kidnappers.
Some hostages were reported to have escaped from a remote Algerian gas plant on Thursday, where dozens of foreigners and scores of Algerians were seized by Islamist gunmen demanding a halt to a French military campaign in neighboring Mali.
Governments around the world were holding emergency meetings to respond to one of the biggest international hostage crises in decades, which sharply raises the stakes over the week-old French campaign against al Qaeda-linked rebels in the Sahara.
Algeria’s Ennahar television said 15 foreigners, including two French citizens, had escaped the besieged plant deep in the Sahara desert. About 40 Algerians had also been freed, mainly women working as translators, it said.
A security source told Reuters the captors, encircled by Algerian troops, were demanding safe passage out with their prisoners. Algeria has refused to negotiate.
The State Department tells CBS News it has no reason to doubt Syrian rebels’ claims that 48 Iranians they are holding hostage are members of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard military unit.
Iran has flatly denied the claim that the hostages are military personnel, insisting they are all civilians who were in Syria to visit the Sayyida Zainab shrine, south of Damascus, when they were abducted. The shrine has been frequented by Shiite Muslim pilgrims in the past, including many from Iran.
On Wednesday, however, Iran’s foreign minister Ali Akbar Salehi was quoted by the Islamic Republic’s government-controlled media as saying, “some retired individuals from the Guards and army” were among those being held.
A group of Syrian rebels took responsibility on Sunday for the kidnapping of 48 Iranians in Damascus a day earlier, but the rebels insisted that their captives were members of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards, not religious pilgrims as Iran’s official news agency had reported.
“They are Iranian thugs who were in Damascus for a field reconnaissance mission,” said a rebel leader, in a video the rebels said showed the captives, sitting calmly behind armed Syrian fighters. In the video, the rebels flipped through what they said were Iranian identification cards and certificates for carrying weapons, proving, the rebels said, that the hostages were not religious pilgrims.
The identities and motives of the captives could not be independently verified, and some rebel groups have not embraced the kidnapping or the theory laid out by the fighters in the video. Col. Malik al-Kurdi, a deputy commander of the Free Syrian Army — one of several competing umbrella groups involved in the fighting — said the brigade taking responsibility for the kidnapping appeared to have been acting on its own and did not tell the Free Syrian Army about the operation.
The captives were collected from the jungle by a Brazilian military helicopter and flown to safety.
They were taken to the city of Villavicencio, where they were welcomed by their relatives and are undergoing medical checks.
All had been held for more than a decade after being captured in combat by the insurgent group.
Television pictures showed the former hostages waving and punching the air as they got off the helicopter at Villavicencio airport.
The Farc promised to release the six policemen and four soldiers earlier this year in what mediators called a “gesture of peace”.
The rebels are still thought to be holding hundreds of civilians, although they have promised to stop kidnappings for ransom.
The hostage release was co-ordinated by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and a group of Colombian mediators led by former senator Piedad Cordoba.
President Juan Manuel Santos has made the release of all hostages one condition for opening talks with the Farc to end five decades of conflict.
But he also wants the left-wing group to end all attacks and stop drug trafficking and the recruitment of children.
For many years the rebels tried to use captured members of the security forces as bargaining tools to try to secure the release of jailed guerrillas.
But in February, the Farc announced that it would free the last 10 hostages and promised to end the practice of kidnap for ransom.
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) have been fighting for power in Colombia since the 1960s.
But over the past decade they have suffered a series of setbacks, losing several top commanders and much of their strength.
After drug trafficking, kidnapping for ransom has been the group’s main source of income, but the practice has drawn national and international condemnation.
As the UN comes under increasing pressure to stop the violence in Syria, the organisation’s rights chief Navi Pillay tells the BBC’s Fergal Keane that she believes there is enough evidence to bring charges against the country’s leader.
Navi Pillay is one of the most experienced international war-crimes experts. Before taking up her UN role as high commissioner for human rights, she served as a judge on the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the tribunal investigating the Rwandan genocide.
Under apartheid she became the first non-white woman to open her own legal practice in her native province of Natal in South Africa. She earned herself a reputation as a formidable campaigner for the rights of political detainees including Nelson Mandela.
As a lawyer of more than 45 years experience Mrs Pillay has learned to choose her words carefully. That is why her forthright comments on President Bashar al-Assad will arouse interest.
When asked if Mr Assad, as chief of Syria’s armed forces, bore command responsibility for attacks on the civilian population, she was unequivocal.
“That is the legal situation. Factually there’s enough evidence pointing to the fact that many of these acts are committed by the security forces, [and] must have received the approval or the complicity at the highest level,” she said.
“President Assad could simply issue an order to stop the killings and the killings would stop. So this is the kind of thing that judges hearing cases on crimes against humanity will be looking at on command responsibility.”
According to the UN, more than 9,000 people have been killed since the uprising began in Syria. Mrs Pillay described what was happening in the country as a “widespread and systematic attack against the civilian population”.
One of the most notable features of the human rights abuses in Syria has been the killing and detention of children.
“They’ve gone for the children, for whatever purpose, in large numbers,” Mrs Pillay said. “It’s just horrendous. Children shot in the knees, held together with adults in really inhumane conditions, denied medical treatment for their injuries, either held as hostages or as sources of information.”
During her time as a judge in the Rwandan tribunal, Mrs Pillay heard evidence of children being murdered. But she said Syria represented something new in her experience.
“[In Rwanda] we saw footage of many children’s bodies, but not this level of incarceration and torture of children. They’re still incarcerated, and that’s what really troubles me,” she said.
“Why are they detaining children? It seems to be systematic and targeted. What troubles me now is that we don’t have access to these children.”
Although the UN Security Council has been briefed by the high commissioner on the scale of the abuses, its members have resisted referring the Syrian government to the International Criminal Court. Both Russia and China would block any attempt to do so.
A Briton and an Italian held hostage in Nigeria were killed by their captors on Thursday as a joint British-Nigerian rescue mission stormed a compound to try to free the men, witnesses and security officials said.
British Prime Minister David Cameron said he had authorized the Britain’s involvement in the rescue attempt after being told the men’s lives were in “imminent and growing danger”.
Briton Chris McManus and Italian Franco Lamolinara, were working for a construction company when they were seized in May from their accommodation in Kebbi state, near Nigeria’s northwestern borders with Niger and Benin.
A witness told Reuters that security forces had tried to force their way into a compound in Sokoto, northwest Nigeria.
“The security agencies tried to break into the house but there was resistance. The people inside the house were shooting at them and they returned fire. They exchanged fire for some time,” said Mahmoud Abubakar, who lives on the same street.
“I saw a military truck come out of the compound with two bodies on it. I didn’t see their colour, because they were covered with leaves,” he added.
The captors were a faction of militant Islamist sect Boko Haram, a senior official at Nigeria’s State Security Service said.
“The hostage-takers shot the hostages before they even entered the compound. All the terrorists have been killed as well,” he said. “We arrested some suspects a few days before who led us to them.”
British special forces were involved in the rescue, UK media reports said.
“We are still awaiting confirmation of the details, but the early indications are clear that both men were murdered by their captors, before they could be rescued,” Cameron said in London.