Archive for December 23, 2014


2014-12-22

TUNIS – Anti-Islamist politician Beji Caid Essebsi won Tunisia’s presidential election with 55.68 percent of the vote, beating incumbent Moncef Marzouki, the electoral commission said on Monday.

Essebsi, an 88-year-old veteran, becomes the first president freely elected by Tunisians since independence from France in 1956.

A former prime minister, he clinched 1.7 million of votes cast against Marzouki’s more than 1.3 million in Sunday’s runoff, electoral commission chief Chafik Sarsar told a news conference.

Turnout in the second round was 60.1 percent, he added.

The election is seen as a landmark for democracy in the North African nation where the Arab Spring was born, and set Tunisia apart from its neighbors where turmoil persists despite popular uprisings that toppled veteran dictators.

The first round on November 23 saw Essebsi take 39 percent, six percentage points ahead of 69-year-old former rights activist Marzouki, who was installed by parliament two months after December 2011 polls.

The campaign was marked by mudslinging, with Essebsi refusing to debate with Marzouki, calling his opponent an “extremist”.

Essebsi insists that Marzouki represents Islamists, charging that they had “ruined” the country since the 2011 revolution which toppled veteran ruler Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and sparked the Arab Spring.

Marzouki in turn accused Essebsi, a senior official under previous regimes, of wanting to restore the old guard deposed in the revolution.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=69380.

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December 22, 2014

TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) — An 88-year-old veteran of Tunisia’s political establishment won the country’s presidency, according to official results issued Monday, capping a four-year-long democratic transition.

Beji Caid Essebsi campaigned on restoring the “prestige of the state” and a return to stability from the years of turmoil that followed this North African country’s 2011 overthrow of dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali that kicked off the regional pro-democracy uprisings of the Arab Spring.

It is a measure of the country’s yearning for a return to stability after four hard years that a revolution of the youth calling for change and social justice ends up electing a symbol of the old regime.

Essebsi, who received 55.68 percent of the vote, once served as Ben Ali’s speaker of parliament and before that was both foreign and interior minister for his predecessor, Habib Bourguiba. His rival, outgoing interim president Moncef Marzouki, who made his name defending human rights against Ben Ali, received 44.32 percent of the vote. Exit polls had predicted similar results soon after polls closed Sunday night.

The voting split on geographical lines, with the affluent northern and coastal regions — the traditional home of Tunisia’s leadership — voting for Essebsi while the more impoverished and neglected south and interior voted for Marzouki.

Tunisia’s powerful Islamist party Ennahda officially remained neutral but its supporters are believed to have backed Marzouki. Essebsi claimed victory Sunday night and reached out to Marzouki’s supporters, calling for everyone to work together to overcome the country’s grave economic challenges.

Essebsi’s party Nida Tunis (Tunisia’s Call), dominated parliamentary elections in October, giving him control now over both the legislative and executive branches and a great deal of power to direct the country.

Analyst Ahmed Safi said this avoids the deadlock that had been expected if Marzouki would have won, but concentrates a great deal of power with one man. “The government, which has been given the most power by the constitution, will now be able to work without fear of interference by the president,” he said, while adding that it means there will be few checks on Essebsi.

Tunisia’s powerful Islamists, who ran the country for two years after the revolution, fear that Essebsi might bring back some of the repression they experienced under the old regime. In its report on the eve of elections, the International Crisis Group said the past few months have revealed the deep divisions in Tunisian society, between Islamists, old guard politicians as well as the wealthy north and the poorer south. The NGO cautioned that the next president must pursue conciliatory policies.

“Whoever wins the presidential election will have to work alongside the new government and parliament to calm both camps’ anxieties, address their legitimate grievances and heal the country’s divisions,” the statement said.

Voting was largely pronounced free and fair, with a participation rate of 60 percent, less than the nearly 70 percent in the previous round and in recent legislative elections. Riots did erupt Sunday night in the southern industrial city of Gabes, where youths protested the results and clashed with police. After several were arrested, the clashes began anew Monday and two police stations were burned.

Schemm reported from Rabat, Morocco.

December 21, 2014

TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) — Tunisian polling firms have declared Beji Caid Essebsi, an 88-year-old official from previous regimes, as the winner of Sunday’s presidential runoff, cementing his dominance over a country where his party already controls Parliament.

The runoff election marks the culmination of a 4-year-long rocky transition to democracy after Tunisians overthrew dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in 2011, kicking off pro-democracy uprisings around the region in what became known as the Arab Spring.

Only in Tunisia, however, has the transition to democracy remained on track, with elections for a permanent parliament held in October and the first round of presidential elections a month later. The Sigma Conseil company’s exit polls, which have consistently come close to matching official results released later, gave Essebsi 55.5 percent of the vote and his opponent Moncef Marzouki, the outgoing interim president, 44.5 percent. Other polling companies gave between 52 and 54 percent to Essebsi.

Marzouki’s campaign maintained that Sunday’s election was too close to call, and the official results are expected by Monday night. Marzouki congratulated Tunisia for its election and said the country has “banished the fake elections of the past which were won by percentages of 99.99 percent.”

Celebrations began immediately after polls closed at Essebsi’s party headquarters with fireworks, cheering crowds and lines of cars honking their horns. Essebsi struck a conciliatory note, urging Marzouki’s supporters to work with him to rebuild the country.

“The future begins today!” Essebsi said, saluting Marzouki and the people who voted for him. “What is important is what we do today and tomorrow for Tunisia and all its children. We must work hand in hand.”

The election has shown deep divisions in the country, not just between Islamists and more secular groups but also between the wealthier capital and coastal regions and the more impoverished interior, which voted for Marzouki.

While the moderate Islamist party Ennahda dominated politics immediately after the revolution in 2011, they were unable to address the serious economic and political challenges in the country, including terrorist attacks.

The Islamists came in second in October’s parliamentary election and did not field a presidential candidate, though they tended support Marzouki. Essebsi created Nida Tunis (Tunisia’s Call), a collection of former regime officials, businessmen and trade unionists to oppose the Islamists and to restore the “prestige of state,” which he said had suffered in the wake of the revolution.

There are now fears that Nida Tunis’ control over the presidency, prime minister and Parliament could result in a return to the country’s old authoritarian ways — an argument Marzouki attempted to push during his campaign.

In the end, however, Tunisians appear to have desired a return to stability and normalcy after the years of revolutionary turmoil. “Essebsi, thanks to his political experience and international ties as well as his program, can get the country out of this mess,” said Mehrez Rakkez, a lawyer who voted in the lower income neighborhood of Kram. He described Marzouki’s three years as interim president as a disaster and said the vote was a choice between “life and death.”

In nearly all the countries swept by pro-democracy uprisings since the Arab Spring, there has been a degree of backlash since the first heady days, including government crackdowns and Egypt’s military overthrow of an elected president.

In Tunisia, however, the backlash has remained within the legal framework of the transition. In contrast to the almost 70 percent turnout for the first round of the presidential election and the legislative balloting, the official election authority said only 59 percent of Tunisia’s 5.3 million voters cast ballots on Sunday.

“This election doesn’t interest me,” said a young man sitting in a crowded cafe in front of a polling station in Tunis’ lower income neighborhood of Yasmina. “I voted before, but I feel the candidates lie. They promise to create jobs for the youth and improve living conditions, but they don’t keep them.”

The eve of the election was marked by some violence with a shotgun blast wounding a soldier near the city of Kairouan. The attackers returned early Sunday morning and attempted to target another polling station but were caught by the army which killed one and arrested three.

No other major acts of violence were reported by the time polls closed at 6 p.m. According to authorities, around 100,000 police and soldiers secured the polls.

Associated Press writer Paul Schemm contributed to this report from Rabat, Morocco.

December 21, 2014

TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) — Tunisians voted on Sunday for a new president in a runoff between a symbol of the country’s previous regimes and a veteran human rights activist that came to power after the revolution of 2011.

The runoff between the two candidates is the third election in the last two months and represents the final stage in the country’s democratic transition since the Arab Spring revolution that overthrew long-ruling President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

Alone among the countries that experienced pro-democracy uprisings, Tunisia’s transition has remained on track. “It is important because we don’t know ahead of time who will win, unlike in the past,” said Hatem Dekali, an employee of the national airline, as he cast his vote in the Tunis suburb of Carthage.

The contest pits Beji Caid Essebsi, an 88-year-old minister in previous Tunisian governments, against Moncef Marzouki, a rights activist who became interim prime minister after the revolution. Essebsi is a favorite to win after taking 39 percent of the vote in last month’s first round and he has promised to restore the “prestige of the state” after the chaotic first years after the revolution marked by unrest and economic problems.

Marzouki, who took 33 percent of the vote last month, has warned that Essebsi, whose party also won October’s parliamentary election, will bring back the authoritarian policies of the previous regimes.

Tunisia’s moderate Islamists, who still have a great deal of backing in the country, aren’t officially backing either candidate, but are believed to lean toward Marzouki. The eve of the election was marked by violence with a shotgun blast wounding a soldier near the city of Kairouan. Islamic radicals vowed further attacks on security forces in a video that surfaced on social networks Wednesday calling on people to boycott the election.

According to authorities, around 100,000 police and soldiers will secure the polls, and certain stations in the border regions with Algeria will close early because of security reasons. With a rise in terrorist attacks after the revolution, security has been a major issue in the election campaign.

There are around 5.3 million registered voters.

 

21 December 2014 Sunday

Tunisians began voting on Sunday in a presidential run-off election that completes the country’s last steps to full democracy nearly fours years after an uprising that toppled autocrat Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali.

With a new progressive constitution and a full parliament elected in October, Tunisia is hailed as an example of democratic change for a region still struggling with the aftermath of the 2011 Arab Spring revolts.

Sunday’s ballot has emerged as a race between a former Ben Ali official Beji Caid Essebsi recasting himself as a technocrat statesman and the incumbent President Moncef Marzouki who claims to defend the legacy of the 2011 revolution that forced Ben Ali into exile.

Nearly 5.3 million Tunisian voters are eligible to cast ballot in Sunday’s election. Voters are distributed among 33 electoral districts with over 10,000 polling stations across the country’s 24 provinces.

Expatriate voters began casting their ballot in the polls on Friday and will continue until Sunday.

The first round of Tunisia’s presidential election – in which 27 candidates competed – saw Essebsi winning some 1.9 million votes (39.4 percent) and Marzouki clinching roughly 1.1 million votes (33.4 percent).

Security measures were heightened around the residence of Tunisian presidential hopeful Beji Caid Essebsi following local media reports purporting “confirmed intelligence” of a plan to assassinate him.

Local radio station Mosaic quoted an unnamed security source as saying that there has been “confirmed intelligence” of a “plan to assassinate Essebsi,” without providing further clarification.

There is a heavy security presence in the vicinity of Essebsi’s house, which is located in Tunis’ northern suburb of Sakra, and checkpoints were set up on the roads leading to house, an Anadolu Agency correspondent reported.

Old regime hopes makeover can win it the election

In the corner of his office, Tunisian presidential candidate Beji Caid Essebsi keeps a bust of Habib Bourguiba, who led the country in 1957 after its independence from France. It is a symbol, he says, of the kind of statesman Tunisia now needs.

The 88-year-old was a minister in Bourguiba’s government and is now standing for President himself. To win however he must convince voters to look past his more recent job — speaker for the autocratic Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who rigged elections to rule for 24 years until the country threw him out in 2011.

That revolt inspired “Arab Spring” uprisings across the Middle East. Where other nations struggle with post-revolt upheaval, Tunisia’s presidential elections on Sunday highlight its successful shift to democracy and a new constitution.

But the race between Essebsi and incumbent President Moncef Marzouki, the human rights activist named president after the first free election of 2011, is also dominated by questions over the return of those close to Ben Ali, who fled to Saudi Arabia.

Some former regime officials have already secured parliamentary positions after Essebsi’s secular party Nidaa Tounes took the most seats in an October general election.

The presidential candidate, who was once Ben Ali’s parliamentary speaker, distances himself from the corruption and abuses associated with the past regime. Instead he offers his experience as a statesman that he says Tunisia needs after three years of instability.

“Do people really think at my age I will take over everything? I will be the president for all Tunisians,” Essebsi said during a campaign stop earlier this month. “All I want is to return the prestige of the state.”

Incorporating Ben Ali officials into politics was part of the political compromise that salvaged Tunisia’s transition and set it apart from other countries, like Libya and Egypt, that still struggle after the Arab Spring to deal with past regime influence.

Ben Ali officials were not hunted down and a law to ban members of his party from politics never made it past initial proposals.

Now Essebsi, who regularly deflects criticism about his age with quips, refers to Bourguiba in his appeal to Tunisians now hoping for more stability.

Marzouki only talks of Essebsi in the context of the Ben Ali era. But he says a win for his opponent would undermine the legacy of the “Jasmine Revolution” and risk consolidating power in the hands of former regime men, known as the “Remnants”.

“Essebsi is not a democrat. He doesn’t know what democracy is,” Marzouki said in a recent speech.

Yet should Essebsi win, victory would be tempered by the political and economic challenges facing Tunisia.

His party’s slim margin in Congress also means it will be forced to compromise when lawmakers choose a prime minister and form a new government. It is unclear whether Nidaa Tounes would be able to work with the leftist Popular Front or the Ennahda in a national coalition — both strong movements.

Ennahda remains a powerful political voice with 69 seats versus Nidaa Tounes’ 85 seats in the 217-member legislature.

Many participants in the 2011 uprising say they too will be warily watching the return of old regime.

This week marked the fourth anniversary of the death of Mohamed Bouazizi, the street vendor who set himself alight in protest and triggered the uprising against the abuses and poor living conditions many suffered under Ben Ali.

“We paid a high price for the revolution and now just four years later the old regime is back with a new look and democratic talk,” said Ali Makki, whose brother was shot dead in protests.

“We’ll keep fighting for freedoms we won.”

Source: World Bulletin.

Link: http://www.worldbulletin.net/headlines/151313/tunisian-polls-open-for-historic-presidential-run-off.

2014-12-17

By Kaouther Larbi

Tunis

Tunisians vote in the second round of a presidential election on Sunday, capping off four years of a sometimes chaotic transition since their country sparked the Arab Spring.

Incumbent Moncef Marzouki faces political veteran Beji Caid Essebsi in the vote — the first time Tunisians will be allowed to freely elect their president since independence from France in 1956.

It was protests in Tunisia and the 2011 ouster of longtime ruler Zine El Abidine Ben Ali that set off the chain of revolts that saw several Arab dictators toppled by citizens demanding democratic reforms.

From Egypt and Libya to Syria and Yemen, violent unrest followed.

But Tunisia has largely avoided the bloodshed that has plagued other Arab Spring states, and its citizens are feeling hopeful ahead of the runoff vote.

“We hope the transition will be over, that the elections will be honest,” said 29-year-old student Anissa Yahyaoui. “I hope that everyone will go vote and everything will go well.”

Major challenges remain for Tunisia.

The small North African nation’s economy is struggling to recover from the upheaval of the revolution and there are fears that widespread joblessness will cause social unrest.

A nascent jihadist threat has also emerged, with militant groups long suppressed under Ben Ali carrying out several attacks including the killings of two anti-Islamist politicians.

The first round of the presidential election, held on November 23, saw Essebsi, an 88-year-old who heads the anti-Islamist Nidaa Tounes party, take 39 percent of the vote.

– Mudslinging campaign –

Marzouki, a 69-year-old former rights activist installed by parliament two months after December 2011 polls, took 33 percent.

Essebsi’s secular Nidaa Tounes party won parliamentary elections in October and he has emerged as the clear favorite to be Tunisia’s next leader, though with reduced influence after constitutional changes stripped the president of many powers.

Nidaa Tounes has said it is waiting until after the presidential vote to start the process of forming a government.

The presidential campaign has been marked by mudslinging, with Essebsi even refusing to take part in a debate with Marzouki, claiming his opponent is an “extremist”.

Marzouki first came to power with the backing of the moderately Islamist party Ennahda that ruled Tunisia after the revolution and which came second in the parliamentary vote.

It has refused to back a candidate for the presidential vote but Essebsi insists Marzouki represents the Islamists.

Marzouki in turn accuses Essebsi, who served as a senior official in previous Tunisian regimes, of wanting to restore the old guard deposed in the revolution.

He has even suggested that Essebsi’s camp was preparing to “win through fraud” in the election, drawing a shark rebuke from Tunisia’s electoral commission.

Results are expected to be announced between December 22 and 24.

Many voters are hoping that whatever the result, Tunisia will see a return to stability after Sunday’s vote.

“There have been a lot of shocks and instability, we haven’t seen good things,” said Salem Zribi, a retired professor.

Experts doubt much will change soon.

Tunisian political analyst Ahmed Manai said the fundamental causes of the revolution — poverty and unemployment — have yet to be dealt with.

“It will be difficult because the enormous socio-economic problems will take a long time to be addressed, and unemployment and price increases will continue,” he said.

For Manai, the election marks only the beginning of “another period of transition”, when Tunisia’s new leadership will need to keep up reforms and restore investor confidence in the economy.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=69318.

December 22, 2014

YALTA, Crimea (AP) — One day in October, a dozen armed men in masks drove up to the gates of Yalta Film Studios. They weren’t actors, and this was no make-believe. It was a hostile takeover.

“They forced all the employees onto the ground, sealed off the premises and halted the work of the studio,” said owner Sergei Arshinov. The studio, nestled in the hills overlooking the Black Sea, is just one of thousands of businesses seized from their owners since Crimea was annexed by Russia eight months ago. Crimea’s new pro-Moscow leaders say the takeovers, which they call nationalizations, are indispensable to reverse years of wholesale plunder by Ukrainian politicians and oligarchs.

But an Associated Press investigation throughout this peninsula the size of Massachusetts found many instances of less noble practices: legal owners strong-armed off their premises; buildings, farms and other prime real estate seized on dubious pretenses, or with no legal justification at all; non-payment of the compensation mandated by the Russian constitution; and targeting of assets belonging to or used by the Crimean Tatar ethnic minority and the pro-Kiev branch of the Orthodox Church.

In a preliminary estimate, Ukraine’s Justice Ministry told AP that around 4,000 enterprises, organizations and agencies have had their property expropriated. Some holdings, from shipyards to health resorts, were publicly earmarked for repossession by Crimea’s regional government, now part of the Russian Federation. Others were simply seized by armed men, sometimes carrying official decrees that were never published or no documentation at all.

Crimea’s Russia-installed prime minister, Sergei Aksyonov, says the nationalization law enacted Aug. 8 seeks to right wrongs committed by officials in Ukraine, where a lot of state property was sold off at bargain prices because the government was broke, or to benefit cronies.

“Over the past 10 years, the majority of state property was illegally stolen from the government,” Aksyonov told AP. “Enterprises were privatized via fraudulent schemes and the state didn’t receive any money.”

‘JUST A LAND GRAB’

At the 34,600-acre Dobrobut farm in far eastern Crimea, the fields now lie fallow, and the 26 employees haven’t been paid for months.

It was June when two carloads of men arrived at the farm with pistols, clubs and assault rifles. In hand, the men had a piece of paper signed by Aksyonov.

The document, seen by the AP but never issued publicly, proclaimed that the land tilled by Dobrobut — under lease from the local village — was being nationalized. The men took over not only the fields, but also Dobrobut’s buildings, its harvest and its equipment, all worth about $1.6 million.

Alexander Garfner, an attorney for Dobrobut, sued in a Crimean court, now part of the Russian justice system. On Sept. 2, the lawsuit was thrown out.

“If we look at the law, then there is no basis for this,” Garfner said. The nationalization attempt, he said, “was clearly just a land grab, because it’s big money.”

The seizures investigated by the AP vary in scale and type of assets involved. But many, like Dobrobut, are reliably profitable and would require little additional investment, including a bus company with a monopoly on $14.6 million in annual ticket sales.

‘THEY TRIED TO INFLUENCE ME’

Some of the losers in Crimea’s new order have been Ukrainian magnates or pro-Kiev politicians stripped of their assets.

The biggest loser so far has been Ihor Kolomoisky, a Ukrainian oligarch and nationalist firebrand. Aksyonov’s government has taken 65 of his properties, including all branches of Privatbank, one of the largest in Crimea.

Andrei Senchenko, local leader of Ukraine’s Fatherland party, estimated his own losses at “several tens of millions of dollars,” including shares in a seized building materials plant and office center.

“They tried to influence me and, what’s more, made me a definite proposition, that I should change my rhetoric and relationship to the occupation of Crimea,” Senchenko said of Crimea’s leaders. “But I gave a clear ‘no.'”

The leadership of the 300,000-strong Muslim Tatar minority, by far the loudest voice against Russian annexation, was ousted from the building it rents in downtown Simferopol. The pro-Kiev branch of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church has had 11 of its 18 parishes shut, and authorities have told the archbishop they want to hike the rent on the building he uses as his cathedral by 600,000 percent.

‘NO CRIME’

For losers in Crimea’s great property grab, there is often no redress.

In April, the Trans-Bud company delivered 54 vehicles, from excavators to dump trucks, to a Simferopol-based firm, Krymsky Passazh. But the customer never paid the $5.2 million bill, and the equipment is now in the hands of camouflage-clad self-defense forces.

Trans-Bud took the matter to the police, company director Vadim Padalko said. But he said after an investigator was told the equipment was being nationalized, police “decided no crime could be established.”

Ukrainian tax registers show Krymsky Passazh was co-founded by the sister of a Simferopol City Council member.

The AP contacted the firm three times, but each time a woman hung up when questioned about the equipment deal.

Business owners affected by nationalization say they have had no better luck in the region’s courts or getting the attention of Russian authorities in Moscow.

‘IT’S A ROBBERY’

Aksyonov, the prime minister, denied any legitimate owner or business person had been hurt in the property seizures.

But at Yalta Studios, they tell a different story. They managed to get the armed men to quit the premises, but haven’t been able to register yet as a Russian company. Without that status, they can’t legally remain in business after Jan. 1.

The owners told AP they’ve plowed $16 million into the studio since becoming sole proprietors in 2004. As compensation for the sets, cameras and other lost property, they say they’ve been offered $1 million. An employee, who spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear of official reprisal, said he doubts they’ll get anything from Crimean authorities in the end.

“It’s a robbery,” the employee said, “pure and simple.”

Dahlburg reported from Kiev.

December 21, 2014

MAIDUGURI, Nigeria (AP) — Thousands of members of Nigeria’s home-grown Islamic extremist Boko Haram group strike across the border in Cameroon, with coordinated attacks on border towns, a troop convoy and a major barracks.

Farther north, Boko Haram employs recruits from Chad to enforce its control in northeastern Nigerian towns and cities. In Niger, the government has declared a “humanitarian crisis” and appealed for international aid to help tens of thousands of Nigerian refugees driven from their homes by the insurgency.

These recent events show how neighboring countries are increasingly being drawn into Nigeria’s Islamic uprising. Thousands of people have been killed in Nigeria’s 5-year insurgency and some 1.6 million people driven from their homes.

“We are concerned about the increasing regionalization of Boko Haram,” said Comfort Ero, Africa director for the International Crisis Group. The countries have been slow to recognize “the gravity and extent of the threat from Boko Haram.”

Ero cautioned that cooperation between the neighboring countries is weak. “None of the sides is willing to share information with the other,” Ero said. “There’s always been a lack of confidence in terms of shared regional security.”

She said there is also distrust of the capabilities of Nigeria’s once-proud military, which has been battered by Boko Haram. A court-martial this week sentenced 54 soldiers to death by firing squad for refusing to fight the extremists.

Chad responded this week by opening a regional “counter-terrorism cell” against Boko Haram in N’Djamena, Chad’s capital 40 miles (60 kilometers) from the Nigerian border, according to an adviser to French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.

Boko Haram’s threat to neighboring countries was highlighted on Wednesday, when some 5,000 insurgents launched simultaneous attacks on border towns in Cameroon, that country’s Ministry of Defense said. During the fighting, the militants set off a roadside improvised explosive device that hit a military convoy. They also attacked the main border barracks at Amchide town, the defense statement said.

Cameroonian troops repelled the attacks and killed 116 militants, while losing a sergeant and a lieutenant, it said, adding that Boko Haram must have suffered additional casualties on the Nigerian side caused by Cameroonian artillery fire.

Fighters from Chad, Niger and Cameroon long have been identified among Boko Haram fighters in Nigeria. But residents fleeing Boko Haram now report that Chadian recruits are enforcing Boko Haram’s rule in northeast Nigerian border towns in Borno state. People who escaped from Gajigana village, which was attacked a week ago, said fighters they called “Chadian mercenaries” have taken charge of most communities, even sitting in courts to adjudicate local disputes.

“They monitor every movement, all the things we do, the kind of people you meet with,” said Kalli Abdullahi, who escaped to Maiduguri this week and spoke to The Associated Press. If residents break the strict Shariah law “they will get you and kill you so as to instill fear in people,” he said.

Nigerian government officials confirm that Boko Haram controls 12 of 27 local government areas in Borno state, as well as some in Adamawa and Yobe states. And they long have had camps in Chad, Cameroon and Niger, say experts.

The area where the four countries’ borders meet is generally poor and long has been ignored by governments. Desertification has intensified tensions. High unemployment means there are groups of disgruntled youths who are an easy target for Boko Haram recruitment. Across borders, people often belong to the same tribe and speak the same local languages. Boko Haram offers signing bonuses and monthly pay to those who join, say residents.

Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau long has expressed his international ambitions, saying his group is fighting to make “the entire world” an Islamic state. Analyst Ely Karmon wrote in a paper for the Terrorism Research Initiative that Boko Haram is “an immediate and infectious regional threat.”

Associated Press writer Jamey Keaten contributed to this report from Paris. Faul reported from Cambridge, England.