Millions risk starvation in Nigeria, Lake Chad region: United Nations

Children attend a class at a primary school in Muna Garage IDP camp, Maiduguri, Nigeria November 7, 2016. UNICEF/Naftalin/Handout via REUTERS

By Gwladys Fouche

OSLO (Reuters) – More than seven million people risk starvation in Nigeria’s insurgency-hit northeastern region and around Lake Chad, a senior U.N. official said on Wednesday ahead of a new funding appeal.

Famine has been ongoing since last year in parts of Nigeria where the government is fighting a seven-year long Boko Haram insurgency.

An international donor conference in Oslo on Friday will aim to raise a chunk of the $1.5 billion the United Nations says it needs to address deepening food insecurity in the region this year.

“They are living on the edge, barely getting by on one meal a day,” Toby Lanzer, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator for the Sahel, told Reuters. “My biggest concern today is starvation.”

Earlier this week the United Nations said 1.4 million children were at risk of “imminent death” in famines in Nigeria, South Sudan, Somalia and Yemen.

Lanzer said he was worried the Boko Haram insurgency would deter farmers from planting their crops after missing the last three planting seasons, and that the number of lives at risk could increase. He also expressed concerns the coming rainy season could harm vulnerable people.

“Hungry people without shelter when it rains die,” he said.

Lanzer said the humanitarian response needed to go beyond food aid and include seeds, tools and fishing nets.

Lanzer said he hoped a total $500 million will have been pledged by the end of February, including this week’s funding round.

Lanzer, who has also worked in South Sudan, Darfur and Chechnya, said it was difficult to estimate how many people would die from hunger in the next few months.

“If we were to lose another planting season, I dread to think how severe the crisis could get,” he said.

Some 10.7 million people in northeastern Nigeria and around Lake Chad — roughly two in every three people — need humanitarian aid, according to the United Nations.

Boko Haram militants have killed about 15,000 people and forced more than 2 million from their homes, and still launch deadly attacks despite having been pushed out of the vast swathes of territory they controlled in 2014.

Lanzer cautioned that failure to address the deteriorating situation could encourage more Africans to try and flee to Europe.

(Editing by Richard Lough)

Seeking to secure Sinai, Egypt builds closer ties with Hamas

A Palestinian worker repairs a smuggling tunnel after it was flooded by Egyptian security forces, beneath the border between Egypt and southern Gaza Strip November 2, 2015. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem/File Photo

By Lin Noueihed and Nidal al-Mughrabi

CAIRO/GAZA (Reuters) – After years of strained relations, Egypt is moving closer to Hamas in Gaza, offering concessions on trade and free movement in return for moves to secure the border against Islamic State fighters who have killed hundreds of policemen and soldiers in northern Sinai.

Egypt has been at odds with Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, since a crackdown by Cairo on the armed group’s Islamist allies. Egypt closed the border, opening it only rarely.

But in recent weeks Egypt has eased restrictions, allowing in trucks laden with food and other supplies, and providing relief from an Israeli blockade that has restricted the flow of goods into the coastal territory.

The relaxation follows high-level Hamas visits to Cairo, which wants to restore its role as a regional powerbroker and crush Islamic State followers in the Sinai Peninsula, a strategic area bordering Gaza, Israel and the Suez Canal.

It builds on what Egyptian and Palestinian sources say are efforts by Hamas to prevent the movement of militants in and out of Sinai, where they have killed hundreds of Egyptian soldiers and police since general-turned-president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi overthrew the Muslim Brotherhood in 2013.

Egyptian and Palestinian officials say the changes could signal a new era of closer cooperation after years of tension.

“We want cooperation in controlling the borders and tunnels, the handover of perpetrators of armed attacks and a boycott of the Muslim Brotherhood. They want the crossing to be opened and more trade,” one senior Egyptian security source said.

“This has actually begun, but in a partial way. We hope it will continue.”

While it doesn’t engage directly with Hamas, Israel is working with Egypt on border security and monitoring of Gaza. Military officials have voiced support for any steps that bring greater stability to northern Sinai and Gaza.

Hamas has increased security along its side of the border with Sinai over the past year, deploying hundreds of security forces and erecting more watchtowers. The group has also moved to round up Salafi Jihadists, who oppose an Egyptian-brokered 2014 ceasefire with Israel.

Hamas, whose charter calls for Israel’s destruction but which has no ambitions for global jihad, has not said how many militants it has captured and refuses to call them jihadists.

Egypt has given Hamas a list of about 85 fugitives, who it says are implicated in attacks and wants extradited, the Egyptian security source said. Hamas denied links with some of them and sources in the group said extraditions were unlikely though it might make its own inquiries.

Hamas has however let Egypt know that it has no interest in stoking unrest in an Arab neighbor that has mediated several truces with Israel and among rival Palestinian factions.

“If we compare it with a year ago, the situation or the relationship is better but it is not yet what is needed,” Mahmoud al-Zahar, a senior Hamas official, told Reuters.

“The needs of our people are great, their need to travel, pursue education or treatment, attend to their businesses and families abroad, and also the need for open trade with Egypt.”


The blossoming ties have been advanced by intense diplomacy, culminating last month in a visit by Ismail Haniyah, a deputy leader of Hamas, to meet Egyptian intelligence officials.

A series of conferences on Palestinian affairs have also taken place in Egypt in recent months attended by figures from Palestinian factions.

Organizers said the conferences were part of efforts to restore Egypt’s regional role following the chaos of the 2011 Arab Spring revolts.

“The situation now is returning to normal,” said Elazb al-Tayeb Taher, writer on Arab affairs at the state-owned Al-Ahram newspaper, which hosted one of the conferences in November.

“Egyptian intelligence is restoring its relationship with Hamas in accordance with certain guidelines, chief amongst them being that Hamas does not become a major gateway for threats from Gaza targeting Egypt’s national security.”

Despite mutual distrust, Hamas and Egypt kept communication channels open, with Hamas officials regularly invited to Egypt.

But ties hit a low in 2013, after Sisi overthrew President Mohamed Mursi, banned the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization and jailed many of its supporters.

Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, a militant group that emerged in North Sinai in the chaos of 2011 and initially attacked Egypt’s gas pipelines to Israel, turned its guns on Egyptian forces. In 2014, it joined Islamic State and has since attacked in Cairo, killing 28 people in a church in December.


Blockaded by Israel and facing the closure of their only other outlet, Gazans dug thousands of tunnels to smuggle in building materials and consumer goods and, according to Egyptian officials, smuggle out arms and fighters.

In a bid to crush the militants, Egypt’s military razed hundreds of homes and destroyed at least 2,000 tunnels.

Curfews, checkpoints and air strikes have devastated an area that once drew holidaymakers to its Mediterranean shore.

The desire to secure the area and restore a semblance of normality is as strong for Egypt, which wants to lure back foreign investors who fled after 2011, as it is for Gazans.

Egyptians who organized the Palestinian conferences suggested the border might be reopened to trade for 10 or 15 days at a time – rather than a few days every six weeks at present – to build trust.

But the ultimate aim is more ambitious; a free trade area and an industrial zone on the Egyptian side to facilitate commerce, allow Gazans to travel abroad, and create jobs for those who might otherwise join the militants.

“We’ve gotten to a point now with Hamas where we’re working on a framework on which to build for the coming period, and this will be contingent upon controlling the borders and the crossing will be open routinely,” said Tareq Fahmy, of the state-linked National Center for Middle East Studies, which co-organized two Palestinian conferences last year.

“We’re thinking of direct trade and all this is pivotal for our brothers in Hamas and the Gaza Strip, but … trust-building processes don’t take place overnight.”

For residents of northern Sinai, who face a gamut of checkpoints each day, open trade seems an outlandish notion. The conflict has rendered the area a wasteland of demolished houses, sand berms and trenches.

“It’s early to talk of trade. We are still living in a security zone,” said one resident.

(Additional reporting by Ahmed Mohamed Hassan in Cairo; editing by Giles Elgood)

Baghdad car bomb kills 51 as Islamic State escalates insurgency

People and Iraq forces gather around car bombing sight

BAGHDAD (Reuters) – A car packed with explosives blew up on Thursday in southern Baghdad, killing at least 51 people and wounding 55, security and medical sources said, in the deadliest such attack in Iraq this year.

Islamic State, which is on the defensive after losing control of eastern Mosul to a U.S.-backed Iraqi military offensive, claimed responsibility for the bombing in an online statement.

As it cedes territory captured in a 2014 offensive across northern and western Iraq, the ultra-hardline group has stepped up insurgent strikes on government areas, particularly in the capital Baghdad.

Security sources said the vehicle which blew up on Thursday was parked in a crowded street full of garages and used car dealers, in Hayy al-Shurta, a Shi’ite district in the southwest of the city.

The death toll could climb further as many of the wounded are in critical condition, a doctor said.

The bombing is the second to hit car markets this week, suggesting the group has found it easier to leave vehicles laden with explosives in places where hundreds of other vehicles are parked.

A suicide bomber detonated a pick-up truck on Wednesday in Sadr City, a poor Shi’ite suburb in the east of the capital, killing at least 15 people. That explosion took place in a street full of used car dealers.

U.S.-backed Iraqi forces have dislodged Islamic State from most of the cities it captured in 2014 and 2015. The militants also control parts of Syria.

Iraqi government forces last month captured eastern Mosul and are now preparing an offensive on the western side that remains under the militants’ control. The city is divided in two halves by the Tigris river.

(Reporting by Maher Chmaytelli; Editing by Dominic Evans and Alison Williams)

U.N. warns of catastrophic dam failure in Syria battle

Euphrates River at sunset in Syria

By Tom Miles

GENEVA (Reuters) – The United Nations is warning of catastrophic flooding in Syria from the Tabqa dam, which is at risk from high water levels, deliberate sabotage by Islamic State (IS) and further damage from air strikes by the U.S.-led coalition.

The earth-filled dam holds back the Euphrates River 40 km (25 miles) upstream of the IS stronghold of Raqqa and has been controlled by IS since 2014.

Water levels on the river have risen by about 10 meters since Jan. 24, due partly to heavy rainfall and snow and partly to IS opening three turbines of the dam, flooding riverside areas downstream, according to a U.N. report seen by Reuters on Wednesday.

“As per local experts, any further rise of the water level would submerge huge swathes of agricultural land along the river and could potentially damage the Tabqa Dam, which would have catastrophic humanitarian implications in all areas downstream,” it said.

The entrance to the dam was already damaged by airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition, it said.

“For example, on 16 January 2017, airstrikes on the western countryside of Ar-Raqqa impacted the entrance of the Euphrates Dam, which, if further damaged, could lead to massive scale flooding across Ar-Raqqa and as far away as Deir-ez-Zor.”

The town of Deir-ez-Zor, or Deir al-Zor, is a further 140 km downstream from Raqqa, and is besieged by IS. The U.N. estimates that 93,500 civilians are trapped in the town, and it has been airdropping food to them for a year.

The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are undertaking a multiphased operation to encircle Raqqa, and have advanced to within a few kilometers of the dam. The SDF has previously said air strikes are not being used against IS near the dam to avoid damaging it.

As IS, also known as ISIL, retreats, its fighters have deliberately destroyed vital infrastructure, including three water stations and five water towers in the first three weeks of January, the U.N. report said.

“ISIL has reportedly mined water pumping stations on the Euphrates River which hinders the pumping of water and residents are resorting to untreated water from the Euphrates River.”

The U.N. has also warned of the danger of a collapse of the Mosul dam on the Tigris River in Iraq, which could affect 20 million people. The dam was briefly captured by IS in 2014, but remains at risk, with constant repairs needed to avoid disaster.

Last month Lise Grande, the top U.N. humanitarian official in Iraq and a trained hydrologist who is an expert on the Mosul dam, said a catastrophic burst could have “Biblical” consequences. The U.N. is preparing an international response in case the Mosul dam collapses.

(Reporting by Tom Miles; Editing by Toby Chopra)

Afghanistan gunmen kidnap 52 farmers, regional officials say

MAZAR-I-SHARIF, Afghanistan (Reuters) – Gunmen in Afghanistan kidnapped 52 farmers on Wednesday, most of them members of the minority Uzbek community in the remote northern province of Jowzjan, regional officials said, but the motive for the abductions was not immediately clear.

Afghanistan’s once-stable north has become a hotbed of kidnappings and shootings in recent years, as the militant Taliban gains ground, along with small groups loyal to Islamic State, mostly defectors from the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban.

The men seized in Wednesday’s incident were kidnapped from three villages in the district of Darz Ab in Jowzjan, while they were at work on their land.

Provincial police blamed Taliban fighters that control most of the district.

“The Taliban is responsible for this act, as they are leading those areas,” said Mohammad Riza Ghori, a spokesman for the police chief of Jowzjan.

“A number of elders from Darz Ab, including the police chief, are trying to talk to the Taliban to release these people, and if this does not work, we will launch an operation.”

He did not give further details of plans for such a rescue operation, however.

A Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, said he was aware of the report, but could not confirm it as he was gathering information.

Jowzjan is the same province where gunmen last week killed six employees of the International Committee of the Red Cross as they helped deliver emergency relief after heavy snow storms.

Two workers were also kidnapped in that attack, which prompted the ICRC to suspend operations in Afghanistan.

Regional officials blamed last week’s attack on Islamic State fighters and the Taliban denied involvement.

However, police spokesman Ghori said there was no Islamic State presence in the area where the farmers were kidnapped, only Taliban.

(Reporting by Abdul Matin Sahak in Mazar-I-Sharif. Writing by Kay Johnson; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

Islamic State shifts to Libya’s desert valleys after Sirte defeat

Libyan man checking building used by Islamic State

By Aidan Lewis

MISRATA, Libya (Reuters) – Islamic State militants have shifted to desert valleys and inland hills southeast of Tripoli as they seek to exploit Libya’s political divisions after defeat in their former stronghold of Sirte, security officials say.

The militants, believed to number several hundred and described as “remnants” of Islamic State’s Libya operation, are trying to foment chaos by cutting power and water supplies and to identify receptive local communities, the officials said.

They are being monitored through aerial surveillance and on-the-ground intelligence, but Libyan officials said they cannot easily be targeted without advanced air power of the kind used by the United States on Jan. 19, when B-2 bombers killed more than 80 militants in a strike southwest of Sirte.

For more than a year, Islamic State exercised total control over Sirte, building its primary North African base in the coastal city. But it struggled to keep a footing elsewhere in Libya and by December was forced out of Sirte after a six-month campaign led by brigades from the western city of Misrata and backed by U.S. air strikes.

The jihadist group lost many of its fighters in the battle and now has no territory in Libya, but fugitive militants and sleeper cells are seen to pose a threat in a country that has been deeply fractured and largely lawless since the 2011 uprising that toppled Muammar Gaddafi.

The threat is focused south of the coastal strip between Misrata and Tripoli, arcing to the southeast around the town of Bani Walid and into the desert south of Sirte, said Ismail Shukri, head of military intelligence in Misrata.

One group of 60-80 militants is operating around Girza, 170 km (105 miles) west of Sirte, another group of about 100 is based around Zalla and Mabrouk oil field, about 300 km southeast of Sirte, and there are reports of a third group present in Al-Uwaynat, close the Algerian border, he said.

Some fighters were based outside Sirte before last year’s campaign, some fled during the battle and some have arrived from eastern Libya where they have been largely defeated by rival armed factions.

“They work and move around in small groups. They only use two or three vehicles at a time and they move at night to avoid detection,” said Mohamed Gnaidy, an intelligence official with forces that conducted the campaign in Sirte.

Those forces published pictures in the wake of last month’s U.S. strike showing hideouts dug into the sand, temporary shelters camouflaged with plastic sheeting and branches, stocks of weapons and satellite phones.

“This area is very difficult so it’s hard for our forces to deal with them,” said Shukri, pointing to satellite images of steep rocky banks and tracks in the sand southwest of Sirte. “The only solution to eliminate them in this area is through air strikes.”


Mohamed Gnounou, a Misrata-based air force spokesman, said the militants had been monitored for 45 days ahead of the U.S. strike. “It confirmed a large number of individuals who were preparing something new in this place, as well as developing a strategy to head to new areas.” The areas included rural districts near the coastal cities of Al Khoms and Zliten, between Misrata and Tripoli, and the region around the southern city of Sabha, he said.

Islamic State fighters had received logistical help from civilians and had paid some of them to help cut off power and water supplies, including by sabotaging a water link to Tripoli in the Great Man-made River system built by Gaddafi, and attacking electricity infrastructure near the southern city of Sabha, where there have been long blackouts in recent weeks, said Gnounou.

“Daesh (Islamic State) destroyed more than 150km of electricity pylons in the south between Jufra and Sabha. These acts fuel crisis and frustration in Libya, as well as giving an opportunity for gold diggers who smuggle through the open borders and make easy money from Daesh,” he said.

Sirte suffered extensive damage during the battle against Islamic State. Military officials from Misrata say they have the city secured and some residents have begun to return to central neighborhoods.

But they also complain about a lack of support from the U.N.-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli and are nervous about military advances by forces loyal to military commander Khalifa Haftar to the east and south of Sirte.

Haftar, who has rejected the GNA, was on the opposite side to Misrata’s brigades in a conflict that flared up across Libya in 2014, just as Islamic State was gaining strength.

Both sides accuse the other of using Islamic State to their advantage, while waging separate campaigns against jihadists.

“The support we are getting is not equivalent to the risk we face or the sacrifice we have made,” said Shukri. “We need the political authorities, the (GNA) to continue the next step.”

(Additional reporting by Ahmed Elumami; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

Eiffel Tower to get anti-terrorist glass barrier round base

Eiffel tower at sunset in Paris, France

PARIS (Reuters) – The Eiffel Tower, one of the world’s most famous landmarks, will get a glass wall built round its base under a plan to provide extra protection against terrorist attacks, a source in the Paris mayor’s office said on Thursday.

The 324-metre-high structure, which gets about seven million visitors a year, already has protective metal fencing around its base, erected temporarily for the Euro football championship of 2016.

France has been hit by Islamist militant attacks including bombings and shootings in Paris in November 2015 in which 130 people were killed.

Glass panels two-and-a-half meters high would be erected around the base of the tower as an anti-terrorist measure if the plans are approved, the source said. The project would go before a sites commission and then the environment ministry.

“We have three aims: improve the look, make access easier and strengthen the protection of visitors and staff,” Jean-Francois Martins, a city official, said in a statement.

The cost of the project will be around 20 million euros ($21.36 million), le Parisien newspaper said.

(Reporting by Chine Labbe; Writing By Richard Balmforth)

Syrian army, allies cut off Islamic State supply route near al-Bab: monitor

Smoke rises from Syrian town admist war

BEIRUT (Reuters) – Syria’s army and its allies advanced towards the northern Islamic-State held city of al-Bab on Monday, cutting off the last main supply route that connects to militant strongholds further east towards Iraq, a monitor said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based group monitoring the war, said the army and the Lebanese Hezbollah group made gains southeast of al-Bab overnight.

Backed by air strikes, government forces and their allies severed the main road that links the city near the Turkish border to other IS-held territory in Raqqa and Deir al-Zor provinces.

Islamic State militants are now effectively besieged in the area, by the army from the south and by Turkish-backed rebels from the north, as Damascus and Ankara race to capture the largest IS stronghold in Aleppo province.

The Syrian army’s advance towards al-Bab risks triggering a confrontation with the Turkish military and its allies, groups fighting under the Free Syria Army banner, which have been waging their own campaign to take the city.

In less than three weeks, Syrian army units moved to within 5 km (3 miles) of al-Bab, as Damascus seeks to stop its neighbor, Turkey, penetrating deeper into a strategic area of northern Syria.

Northern Syria is one of the most complicated battlefields of the multi-sided Syrian war, with Islamic State now being fought there by the Syrian army, Turkey and its rebel allies, and an alliance of U.S.-backed Syrian militias.

Turkey launched its campaign in August in Syria, “Euphrates Shield”, in order to secure its frontier from Islamic State and halt the advance of the powerful Kurdish YPG militia.

Turkish troops and FSA rebels clashed heavily with IS militants around the town of Bazaa, east of al-Bab, in recent days, the Observatory said. Turkish-backed forces had briefly captured the town before Islamic State suicide bombers pushed them out on Saturday.

The Observatory also reported fighting south of al-Bab on Monday between government forces and Islamic State.

Al-Bab sits 40 km (25 miles) northeast of Aleppo, where the government defeated rebels in December, its most important gain of the nearly six-year-old war.

(Reporting by Ellen Francis)

Sold by Islamic State, bought by strangers: Yazidi child reunited with family

boy returned to yazidi family in Iraq

By Isabel Coles

RASHIDIYA, Iraq (Reuters) – His name was Ayman, but the couple who brought the boy home to their Iraqi village after buying him for $500 called him Ahmed.

Islamic State militants had killed or enslaved Ayman’s parents in their purge of the Yazidi religious minority to which he belongs, then sold the four-year-old to Umm and Abu Ahmed, who are Muslims.

For the 18 months he lived with the couple, his relatives assumed he was dead, one of several thousand Yazidis who have been missing since the militants overran their homes in what the United Nations has called genocide.

When Iraqi forces retook east Mosul and the surrounding area last week, they found Ayman and returned him to what is left of his family. While their reunion was full of joy, breaking the bond between Ayman and his adoptive parents brought new sorrow.

Speaking to Reuters journalists brought by Iraqi forces to his home in Rashidiya, north of Mosul, Abu Ahmed swiped through photographs of the boy on his phone: “That’s him riding a bicycle here. That’s him standing in our hall. That’s an exercise machine he played on.”

The windows of the couple’s one-story home on the eastern bank of the Tigris river have been shattered by a blast that destroyed their neighbor’s house, evidence of the fierce fighting that will continue when the army attacks the western side, which is still controlled by Islamic State.

Abu Ahmed emptied the contents of a box onto the bed Ayman used to share with them: toy cars and building blocks, and a children’s book for learning Arabic script.

It was Umm Ahmed’s idea to adopt a child. The couple had no children, and she heard Islamic State was selling orphans in the town of Tel Afar, some 40 km (25 miles) to the west.

“My objective was to win favor (with God),” said Umm Ahmed, only her eyes showing in a gap in her black veil. “To be honest, I wanted to teach him my religion, Islam.”

Her husband, a government employee, was against the idea but could not dissuade his wife, who went alone to get the boy from an orphanage run by the militants, paying for him with her earnings as a teacher.

Although the boy cried and did not want to go with her, she coaxed him, saying: “Come, you will be my child. We will live together and I will buy you everything.”


Gradually he grew accustomed to his adoptive parents, who taught him Arabic instead of the Kurdish dialect spoken by Yazidis. They told people he was a nephew they had taken in and enrolled him at the local school under the name Ahmed Shareef, but mostly he was kept indoors.

“He was really smart. I taught him to pray and perform ablutions. Do you know how much of the Koran he memorized?” Umm Ahmed said.

They did not want him to forget who he was and encouraged him to speak about life in his village of Hardan. But she said: “I always warned him not to tell anyone (he was Yazidi).”

Islamic State imposed a radical version of Islam in Mosul after establishing the city as its de facto capital: banning cigarettes, televisions and radios, and forcing men to grow beards and women to cover from head to toe.

They branded the Yazidis, whose beliefs combine elements of several ancient Middle Eastern religions, as devil-worshipers.

Sometimes Ayman asked about the rest of his family but Umm and Abu Ahmed did not know what happened to them except for a sister in her mid-teens who was taken as a slave by a militant from Tel Afar. The militant brought the sister to visit several times but her current fate is unknown.

The whereabouts of a half-brother who was sold at the orphanage before Ayman are also not known.

As the U.S.-backed campaign to drive Islamic State out of Mosul gathered pace and the Iraqi army’s ninth division reached Rashidiya, things began to unravel for Umm and Abu Ahmed.

On entering the village, a commander received a tip that a Yazidi boy was being held there and dispatched soldiers to retrieve him. The couple had no choice but to give him up.

A video clip of the moment they were parted shows Ayman clinging to Umm Ahmed and crying.

In the clip, provided to Reuters by an aid group embedded with the army, she pleads with the soldiers who came to get the boy. “Leave him with me a bit,” she says, then tries to comfort him in spite of her own distress: “You will go and see your mother now… and when you grow up you will come and see me”.


Ayman’s parents and most other relatives are still missing, but his grandmother and uncle live on the edge of one of several camps to which the Yazidi community has been displaced en masse, about 50 km (30 miles) away from Rashidiya.

Samir Rasho Khalaf thought his nephew had been killed until he saw a post on Facebook on Jan. 28 that a Yazidi child named Ayman Ameen Barakat had been found.

“I was stunned,” said Khalaf. “It’s a miracle: he came back from the dead.”

That same night, they were reunited. In a video of the reunion shown to Reuters by the soldiers who handed Ayman over, his grandmother strikes herself on the head repeatedly when she sees the boy, picking him up and wailing in disbelief.

“We all cried,” Major Wathiq Amjad Naathar, the army official who oversaw the handover, told Reuters.

That night, Ayman was beside himself and begged to be returned to Umm Ahmed, Khalaf said.

But on a visit by a Reuters reporter and TV crew this week, he appeared happy and calm, if bashful about all the attention.

Asked if he had been happy with his adoptive parents, he said yes, and asked if he was happy to be back with his real family, he said yes too.

Khalaf said he was pleased that Umm and Abu Ahmed kept Ayman safe and healthy, and he was grateful that, unlike so many other Yazidi boys abducted by Islamic State, he was not forced to train with weapons or fight.

But he was angry the couple did not try harder to find his family to say he was alive and well, and has refused to allow them to talk to Ayman, even though they called once.

“We don’t mention them (his adoptive parents) so he will forget them,” he said.

Umm Ahmed said he will never forget them, however, just as they will not forget him.

“I expect he will return,” she said.

(Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

French soldier shoots, wounds machete-wielding attacker at Paris Louvre

Carrousel du Louvre in Paris, sight of recent terrorist attack attempt

By Michel Rose and Elizabeth Pineau

PARIS (Reuters) – A French soldier shot and wounded a man armed with a machete and carrying two bags on his back on Friday as he tried to enter the Paris Louvre museum in what the government said appeared to have been a terrorist attack.

The man shouted Allahu Akbar (God is greatest) and rushed at police and soldiers before being shot near the museum’s shopping mall, police said, adding a second person had also been detained after acting suspiciously.

The attacker was alive but seriously wounded, the head of Paris police Michel Cadot told reporters at the scene, adding the bags he had been carrying contained no explosives.

“The soldier fired five bullets,” Cadot said, describing how the man hurried threateningly toward the soldiers at around 10 a.m. (0900 GMT).

“It was an attack by a person … who represented a direct threat and whose actions suggested a terrorist context.”

Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said during a visit to Bayeux in Normandy: “It appears to be an attempted attack of a terrorist nature.”

The soldier who fired the bullets was from one of the patrolling groups that have become a common sight around the capital since a state of emergency was declared across France in November 2015. An anti-terrorism inquiry has been opened, the public prosecutor said in a statement.

Another soldier was slightly wounded in the incident.

The identity and nationality of the attacker remains unknown for now, French Interior Ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet told reporters. Interior Minister Bruno le Roux abandoned a trip to the Dordogne region to return to Paris.

More than 230 people have died in France in the past two years at the hands of attackers allied to the militant Islamist group Islamic State.

The country is less than three months away from a presidential election in which security and fears of terrorism are among the key issues.

Paris was also planning to submit its official bid to host the 2024 Olympic Games on Friday with a launch show at the Eiffel Tower around 1730 GMT.

The city had in recent months been gradually recovering from a dip in foreign tourism caused by the attacks.

The most recent deadly attack took place in the southern city of Nice in July last year when a man drove a truck into a crowd on the seafront killing 86.

In September, in an attempted attack, a group of women parked a car containing gas canisters near Paris’s Notre Dame Cathedral.

Police cordoned off and evacuated the area around the museum for a time on Friday but began to allow traffic to pass less than two hours after the incident. Louvre officials closed the museum and kept visitors inside for a time before beginning to let them leave.

(Reporting by Emmanuel Jarry, Chine Labbe, Bate Felix; Editing by Andrew Callus, John Irish and Janet Lawrence)