MW Weekly: Paraguayan Military Kills Marxist Guerrilla Leader; Islamic State Attacks Iranian Shrine; Al-Shabaab Besieges Hospital in Somalia
Joint Task Force Kills Guerrilla Leader of the Paraguayan People's Army
Officials in Paraguay have identified one of the three armed rebels killed in a shootout with security forces in the Amambay Province on October 23rd as a leader of the Paraguayan People’s Army (EPP). The EPP is a small but violent Marxist-Leninist guerrilla group operating in the remote north and eastern provinces of Paraguay along the border with Brazil.
Osvaldo Villalba, 39, a top member of the EPP and effectively its field commander, was killed by the Joint Task Force (FTC) along with two of his comrades during a brief skirmish. According to army officials, an FTC patrol responded to the sound of gunshots, leading to the discovery of two dead indigenous people along with a third injured member of their tribe, all of whom had allegedly been shot by a rebel unit. The EPP is known to have clashed with tribal Paraguayans over the recruitment of indigenous youth, and perhaps over other issues as the guerrillas operate in the country’s remotest regions near indigenous villages. EPP is also known to have support among the remote communities of Paraguay.
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The EPP was founded in 2008 as an offshoot of the Partido Patria Libre, itself an armed movement established in 1990 by Paraguayan Marxists at the fall of a US-backed right-wing military dictatorship that had banned far-left parties and organizations in the country. It is believed that the EPP has received training and assistance from the Marxist guerrilla FARC organization in Colombia as well as from guerrillas in Chile.
The group’s founder and current leader, Alcido Oviedo Britez, is serving a prison sentence, along with Osvaldo Villalba’s sister, Carmen Villalba, who has been incarcerated since 2004 for her alleged role in the kidnapping of Maria Edith Bordon de Debernardi and other purported militant activities.
Following Osvaldo’s death on October 23, EPP supporters brought his casket to the prison where Carmen is serving her sentence in order for her to pay her final respects to her deceased brother. Authorities at first refused to let the procession into the facility until prisoners threatened to riot. The whole episode caused national outrage, and the Minister of Justice was forced to resign following revelations that the guerrilla leader’s casket was eventually admitted into the prison complex.
The Paraguayan People’s Army is a comparatively small insurgency, whose armed membership likely numbers in the hundreds. They have, however, had a remarkable history of brazen actions, the most notable of which involve kidnappings in order to elicit large ransoms, the victims ranging from local ranchers and members of the Paraguayan Mennonite community to high-profile targets such as the former Vice President of Paraguay (2012-13), Oscar Denis. The former VP was abducted from his ranch in Amambay Province in September 2020 and his condition and whereabouts remain unknown. It is unclear if he is even still alive. The kidnapping was said by EPP rebels to be in retaliation for a military raid on a guerrilla camp that killed two eleven-year-old girls, both of them Argentine citizens said to have been visiting family among the EPP guerrillas.
President Mario Abdo Benitez called for an end to the insurgency, and lamented the loss of the two indigenous Paraguayans: “I repeat my request to this entire terrorist group. Stop the fighting. We call for peace in Paraguay.”
It is unclear what the death of Osvaldo Villalba means for the leadership or future of the EPP, but it has undoubtedly been a serious blow to the organization, as he was a direct link between the guerrillas in the field and the foundational leadership serving time in Paraguay’s prisons.
Islamic State Operation Targets Iranian Shiites in Shiraz
On October 26, multiple gunmen attacked a Shiite shrine in Shiraz, Iran. Hours after the shooting, the Islamic State issued an official claim of responsibility describing how its militants had killed dozens of people in the operation. Media reports placed the total casualty figures at 15 killed and 40 injured.
The IS statement detailed how the attacker first engaged a number of Iranian policemen and guards at the shrine and then opened fire on the crowds inside.
On October 29, the Islamic State released an official video of the attacker pledging his allegiance to the group.
Although Islamic State operations in Iran are quite rare, the group had previously conducted attacks in Tehran (June 2017) and Ahwaz (September 2018).
Iran has long been a declared enemy and desired target of the IS organization, its regional branches, and overall movement. The Islamic State views Iran as an ideological enemy as the power center of Shia Islam and as an adversarial actor in the Middle East, South Asia, and elsewhere.
In addition to hostile sentiments expressed by its hubs in Iraq and Syria, the Islamic State’s Khurasan Province (ISKP) has in recent months increased its output of propaganda in Farsi and has threatened/called for attacks in Iran.
You can read our report on the Islamic State Khurasan Province threat to Iran here:
Al-Shabaab Attacks Somalia Hotel
On October 24, al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for an attack carried out on the Tawakal Hotel in Kismayo, Juba province in southern Somalia. The attack was described by the group as an “immersive operation” and lasted for 15 hours after starting Sunday at noon. As a result, they claim, 80 members of the Somali security forces were killed, including officers and officials. The group also boasted about causing material losses.
The jihadists said they attacked the hotel because “it was a den among the dens of the enemies where they were planning to launch attacks on the areas governed by the Shari’ah of Allah in Juba Province, and readying militias to join the project to fight the Shari’ah of Allah”.
The group said they killed 27 “apostates” that were holding conferences, along with the forces responding to the attack. They placed the number of wounded at 53.
They warn all those fighting al-Shabaab that they know where they hold their conferences and make decisions. They call them to “repent to Allah before the hands of the mujahideen reach them”. The group published a photo of the damage inflicted on the hotel as a result of the operation.
- Al-Shabaab analysis by Guillermo Calderón López
Conflict Photos of the Week