South African Olympic and Paralympic athlete Oscar Pistorius has been released under house arrest nearly one year after he was jailed for killing his girlfriend.

He is expected to spend the remainder of a five-year prison sentence at his uncle's home in Pretoria.

He shot Reeva Steenkamp through a locked bathroom door in 2013 but said he thought she was an intruder.

Ms Steenkamp's relatives say they think Pistorius is "getting off lightly".

Pistorius, 28, was found guilty of culpable homicide, or manslaughter, of his 29-year-old girlfriend at a trial in October last year.

A case lodged by the prosecution appealing against that decision is due to be heard by the Supreme Court of Appeal on 3 November. State prosecutors say Pistorius should have instead been convicted of murder.


Pistorius house arrest: The dos and don'ts

  • No access to firearms
  • No taking of drugs or alcohol, and can be randomly tested by officials
  • Continue with psychotherapy sessions
  • No going out at night
  • Can work; will not be electronically tagged
  • His lawyers say track and field training is part of work, but this is still unclear

The athlete was released on Monday evening, a day earlier than expected, according to a spokesman from the Kgosi Mampuru II prison, where Pistorius was being held.

The double amputee athlete's family said they had not expected to be released a day earlier, and he would "strictly" adhere to his parole conditions.

Reeva Steenkamp pictured in June 2012Image copyright EPA
Image captionPistorius shot and killed Reeva Steenkamp, 29, through a locked bathroom door

The decision was taken in the "interest of all parties concerned, the victims, the offender and the Department of Correctional Services", Manelisi Wolela said in a statement.

Pistorius was driven under cover of darkness to his uncle's house 20 minutes away, a premature departure designed presumably to avoid the media glare, says the BBC's Karen Allen in Pretoria.

It is understood he will not be electronically tagged but he will have restrictions on his movement, she adds.

'Poor physical shape'

South Africa's justice minister blocked an earlier attempt to get the Olympic athlete's release in August in a surprise move.

Speaking earlier to the BBC, Reeva Steenkamp's cousin Kim Martin said the family might consider visiting Pistorius when the time is "right". But she also said she felt he was "getting off lightly".

Her parents have previously said that the time served by Pistorius was "not enough for taking a life".

Under South African law, the double amputee was eligible for release under "correctional supervision" having served a sixth of his sentence.

Meanwhile, a close family friend of the athlete said he was in poor physical shape, adding that his return to athletics would be unlikely.

Pistorius competed in the 400 metres at the London 2012 Olympics, wearing carbon-fibre blades to run against able-bodied athletes.

If the prosecution is successful with its appeal next month, Pistorius could face a lengthy sentence back in prison.

Nigeria is to deploy drones to monitor the movement of ships in an effort to curb the rampant oil theft in the country, the state oil firm says.

Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) says it wants to end crude theft in the next eight months.

Nigeria is Africa's biggest crude producer but its revenue is severely reduced by theft and attacks on oil pipelines.

New President Muhammadu Buhari has vowed to clean up the industry.

Oil generates around 70% of government revenues in Africa's biggest economy.

But a 2013 report by think tank Chatham House said that 100,000 barrels per day were being stolen.

That was equivalent to 5% of Nigeria's daily production.

It said the theft was occurring on an "industrial scale", with small barges transferring stolen oil to tankers waiting offshore to take it to international markets.

Senior politicians and military officers are said to be involved in the illegal trade.

The new head of NNPC Ibe Kachikwu also said the company would work more closely with Nigeria's navy to tackle the problem.

We thought we were too far away to worry about events in North Africa and the Middle East. Even Boko Haram, which is closer in neighbouring Nigeria, did not, at least we thought, pose any threat to our national security until news started filtering in that the dreaded Islamic State of Syria and Iraq (ISIS) has set up a recruitment camp in Ghana.

As usual, the subject was trivialised, politicised and even bastardised in some quarters, depending on who was discussing it. But the truth is; the information that ISIS is recruiting our youth for training and operations outside our shores should not be seen as an isolated case.

It falls within a global pattern which if not given the necessary serious attention and checked at its embryonic stage could spell doom for the country.

It was unfortunate the media networks which claimed access to the information first did not act in the overall national interest.

Some of us were expecting that such a delicate information would be passed on to national intelligence to do its underground work and if possible arrest those that are the brains behind the recruitment instead of going public about even the meeting place of the syndicate.

For now, we can take consolation in the assurance by the national security apparatus that they are on top of events and that there should be no cause for alarm.

A statement attributed to the National Security Coordinator that since the movement is outward, we should not panic as a nation, if true, is, however, unfortunate.

We know that when soldiers train and go to war, they always return home not with calm demeanours, but with savage mentality which they could unleash on their compatriots. It is, therefore, not strange that countries that have experienced civil wars and other violent upheavals also become fertile grounds for violent criminals such as armed robbers.

What is ISIS?

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) came to world attention in June last year, after the declaration of its Islamic Caliphate by taking over large parts of Syria and Iraq. Since then, the group has been able to recruit thousands of fighters from various countries to join its ranks.

Western-led efforts to suppress the group have so far yielded little positive results and ISIS continues to grow in strength by the day just as its ruthlessness against its enemies and those converts who want to retreat.

According to the UK-based Syrian Observatory of Human Rights, ISIS has over the past year executed over 1,841 civilians, including women and children, by shooting, beheading, stoning and burning for crimes such as sorcery, sodomy, adultery, banditry and co-perating with rival rebel groups and the US-led coalition fighting it.

The report also said the group had executed 182 of its own members who had been captured trying to flee back to their countries.

How it started

When the United States (US) and its European allies invaded Iraq in 2003, they made the world to believe that they were after a monster called Saddam Hussein who was planning to destroy the world with weapons of mass destruction.

Even after the invaders could not provide any proof of the storage of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, Western propaganda made the world to believe that the death of Saddam was a good riddance of an evil nut which would make the world safer.

Years after the death of Saddam, Iraq remains one of the most unsafe places in the world. The West went further to instigate the overthrow of the regime of Muammar Gaddafi of Libya in 2011 and is still making attempts to remove Bashar-al Assad of Syria from power by arming a lot of rebel groups against him since 2011, under the guise of establishing democracy and defending human rights.

The collapse of the relatively stable regimes in Iraq, Libya and Yemen, adding to the problem in Afghanistan and rebel activities in Syria, all through the covert and overt operations of the West , prepared fertile grounds for Islamic militants to intensify their activities in North Africa and the Middle East, leading to the emergence of the ISIS.

Today, the US and its European allies are trying to do damage control. But the more they pour in armour and personnel, the more the rebel groups also expand their operations, and in amoeba-like fashion, multiply under different names in various countries but with a common objective – to kill, maim, destroy and cause fear and panic.

Today the world is not safe, including for those of us who think we are very far away from the theatre of war. The idea that the recruitment wing of ISIS is on our soil means we are getting closer, and Boko Haram, which is nearer, may be even closer than we thought.

The media should stop running commentaries on such issues and rather provide valuable information to our intelligence organisations which should also put their ears on the ground. It is said that a stitch in time saves nine and to be forewarned is to be forearmed.

A hurricane with winds of up to 120km/h (75mph) has hit the island nation of Cape Verde, off the coast of West Africa.The government grounded all flights as heavy rain and winds lashed north-western islands in the archipelago. 

No hurricane has ever been recorded further east in the tropical Atlantic.Late on Monday Fred weakened to a tropical storm as it moved away from the islands, the US-based National Hurricane Center (NHC) said.

Strong winds and rain are expected to persist as Fred moves through other parts of Cape Verde on Tuesday, the NHC added.

It said the last time a hurricane was recorded hitting Cape Verde was 1892, although it cautions that records were less exact before the advent of weather satellites in the mid-1960s.

Cape Verde consists of 10 significant volcanic islands, nine of which are inhabited.

South Sudan's rebel leader has accused the government of violating a ceasefire hours after it came into effect.

Riek Machar said the army attacked his forces in two northern states, allegations which the military denies.

President Salva Kiir, under the threat of sanctions from the UN, signed a peace agreement on Wednesday, despite "serious reservations".

Several ceasefires to end the brutal 20-month conflict in the world's youngest nation have failed to hold.

The ceasefire came into effect at midnight local time on Saturday (21:00 GMT).

Mr Machar said his troops remained committed to the ceasefire despite the reported attacks in northern Unity and Upper Nile states, but would act in self-defence if the offensive continues.

"The government is unable to control its own troops," Mr Machar told reporters in Ethiopia.

map
  • Why does South Sudan matter to the US?
  • South Sudan's 'war economy'

He also accused the government of launching a "belligerent convoy", including gunships, on the River Nile from the capital Juba.

The convoy had been bombarding villages as it headed through rebel-held territory on its way north, he said.

Army spokesman Col Philip Aguer denied that there were any government troops operating in the areas where the alleged attacks took place.

"These are mere fabrications by the rebels. We don't have any report of clashes," he is quoted by AFP news agency as saying.

The government has also accused Mr Machar of failing to properly order his troops to stop fighting.

Tens of thousands of people have died and more than two million have been displaced from their homes since the conflict started in December 2013.

In a unanimous statement last week, the UN Security Council called on both parties "to adhere to the permanent ceasefire immediately", or face an arms embargo and other sanctions.

Under the agreement, the rebels will be given the post of first vice-president, a position Mr Machar held until 2013 when he was dismissed by President Kiir.

South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in 2011.

Fighting broke out in December 2013 after President Kiir accused his sacked deputy Mr Machar of plotting a coup.

Mr Machar denied the charges, but then mobilised a rebel force to fight the government.

Key points of the peace deal:

South Sudanese soldier on patrol in Bentiu - January 2014
  • Fighting to stop immediately. Soldiers to be confined to barracks in 30 days, foreign forces to leave within 45 days, and child soldiers and prisoners of war freed
  • All military forces to leave the capital, Juba, to be replaced by unspecified "guard forces" and Joint Integrated Police
  • Rebels get post of "first vice-president"
  • Transitional government of national unity to take office in 90 days and govern for 30 months
  • Elections to be held 60 days before end of transitional government's mandate
  • Commission for Truth, Reconciliation and Healing to investigate human rights violations

Boko Haram is trying to expand its activities beyond Nigeria's mainly Muslim north, to include the commercial capital Lagos, as well as other parts of the country, officials say.

Nigeria's intelligence agency says 12 members of the Islamist militant group have been arrested in Lagos since July.

It is not possible to independently verify details of the statement.

Boko Haram has waged a six-year insurgency in Nigeria, mainly in the north-east of the country.

Authorities arrested other self-confessed Boko Haram members in the south-eastern city of Enugu as well as other parts of central and northern Nigeria, the Department of State Services (DSS) said in a statement.

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The DSS attributes the attempted expansion of Boko Haram into southern areas to the increased pressure the group is under in its north-eastern heartland.

However, the BBC's Will Ross in Lagos says the group is still causing havoc in the north-east, with reports that more than 50 people were killed in an attack in Borno State on Friday, about 100km (62 miles) north of the state capital Maiduguri.

Will Ross, BBC News, Lagos

For many in Lagos it will be alarming to hear that a dozen Boko Haram members have been arrested here in recent weeks. I have often been told by Lagosians that the jihadist group would never dare attack this city, which seems more naive than reassuring, especially as there was an attempt to bomb a fuel depot last year.

The announcement from the secret police, known as the DSS, came just a day after another statement told us a teenager had been picked up inside Abuja airport where he was gathering intelligence for Boko Haram - another disturbing bit of news.

The DSS says the arrests have helped avert "devastating attacks" and that "notable commanders and frontline members" have been rounded up.

We have no way of independently verifying the information in the statements but it is worth noting that all the security departments are under pressure to demonstrate that they are having an impact against Boko Haram, especially as President Muhammadu Buhari has made tackling the jihadist insurgency a priority and is still making senior appointments.

A new DSS director general was appointed in early July and the latest statement says the arrests began the very next week.

Boko Haram at a glance:

Boko Haram fighters
  • Founded in 2002, initially focused on opposing Western-style education - Boko Haram means "Western education is forbidden" in the Hausa language
  • Launched military operations in 2009
  • Thousands killed, mostly in north-eastern Nigeria, abducted hundreds, including at least 200 schoolgirls
  • Joined Islamic State, now calls itself "West African province"
  • Seized large area in north-east, where it declared caliphate
  • Regional force has retaken most territory this year

Why Boko Haram remains a threat

Ghana's authorities are investigating several universities over links to suspected recruitment for the so-called Islamic State (IS), officials say.

IS agents recruited students after urging them to join radical online forums, National Security Coordinator Yaw Donkor told state media.

Mr Donkor confirmed that two Ghanaians had travelled to join IS, the first such cases that have been reported.

Ghana has so far been unaffected by Islamist militancy.

Mr Donkor said there was "no reason to fear", adding that "only a handful" of Ghanaians had gone to join the militant group.

The wealth of IS meant that potential recruits had found the offers made to them by the militants' "irresistible", he added.

The recruits had travelled through Burkina Faso or Nigeria, before receiving training at a camp in Niger, and then making the onward journey to Turkey or Syria, the National Security Coordinator said.

Analysis: Sammy Darko, BBC News, Accra

Many people here are extremely shocked by this news. Ghanaians are surprised because they have always seen Islamist militancy as a distant threat.

But it is now dawning on this West African nation that the problem may have reached closer to home.

The issue has become part of a nationwide discourse. Parents are worrying about their children and the Muslim community is anxious to disassociate itself from Islamist extremism.

Mohammad Nazir Nortei Alema, a 25 year old who studied geography at the prestigious Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, was confirmed as one of those who had joined IS.

"It's like someone in the family has died," his father Abdul Latif Alema told the BBC on Tuesday, after he had received a Whatsapp message from his son explaining that he was going to join the group.

IS, notorious for its brutality, holds vast swathes of territory across Iraq and Syria.

But the group has also established a presence in Africa, with militant groups in Nigeria, Egypt and Libya pledging allegiance to it and carrying out bombing campaigns in its name.

A revered monarch in south-west Nigeria, the Onu of Ife, is to be buried with thousands of people expected to attend his funeral.

Traditional rites to honour Oba Okunade Sijuwade - the king of the Yoruba, Nigeria's second biggest ethnic group - will be held in the city of Ife.

Banks and other businesses have been closed, one resident told the BBC.

The 85-year-old sovereign died in London in July but his death was only announced on Wednesday.

Analysts say this was not surprising as the royal court first needed to have extensive consultations and begin the search for a successor before the announcement could be made.

He was respected by most Yorubas, who number about 35 million, in south-west Nigeria, Togo and Benin.

The Ooni was said to be the direct descendant of Oduduwa, who is a Yoruba god.

"We have been told to close to our businesses for seven days and stay indoors until the funeral is over," a resident of Ife said.

He told the BBC Hausa service that the restriction of movement was to respect the traditional rituals.

Traditional rulers, politicians and other dignitaries are expected to attend the ceremony.

Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari has appointed a committee to advise him on how best to tackle corruption and reform the legal system.

The seven-member Presidential Advisory Committee on Anti-Corruption is mostly made up of academics.

Mr Buhari was elected in May, largely on a promise to tackle corruption.

He has said he believes government officials have stolen about $150bn (£96bn) from the public purse over the past decade.

  • BBC Africa Live: News updates

"The committee's brief is to advise the present administration on the prosecution of the war against corruption and the implementation of required reforms in Nigeria's criminal justice system," said presidential spokesman Femi Adesina.

However, Mr Adesina was unable to say when the committee would report back to the president with its recommendations.

A billboard reading 'We will not tolerate corruption' mounted by the leading opposition All Progressive Congress is seen along a Lagos highway on January 20, 2015.
Mr Buhari promised to take a tough line against corrupt officials during the election campaign

The BBC's Will Ross in Lagos says corruption is a massive drain on Nigeria's public finances and President Buhari's anti-corruption stance was a key factor in his election victory.

The difficult part will be ending a crooked culture deeply engrained in many government departments, our correspondent adds.

In a meeting with US President Barack Obama last month, President Buhari appealed for help in finding and returning government money he said had been stolen and was being held in foreign bank accounts.

Speaking on Monday, Mr Buhari criticised the way large loans had been diverted from the government projects for which they were intended.

Lagos, Nigeria - As much of the rest of the world geared up to celebrate winter holidays in December last year, a group of 54 soldiers formerly deployed to fight Nigerian Islamists stood in front of a court martial in Abuja. 

Among them, one young man listened in shock as the court found him guilty of mutiny and sentenced him to death by firing squad.

"We did not fire on anybody. And we didn't threaten anybody. They are just punishing us for an unknown sin," he explained over the phone from Lagos, where the soldiers are being held in military detention.

Their only "rebellion", he said, was to ask for weapons before undertaking an offensive against Boko Haram fighters who have caused the deaths of nearly 15,000 people during a six-years of fighting in Nigeria's northeast.

After almost eight months in custody, their panic is rising.

"Things are going as if we are not in the civilian regime any more," the soldier said, referring to previous periods of military rule.

"Soldiers were never sentenced like this before," argued Femi Falana, a human rights lawyer who represents the soldier and the 53 convicted with him.

In total, Nigeria sentenced 70 soldiers to death in 2014, in trials which were perceived by many as an attempt to shift blame for the failure to curb Boko Haram's bloody expansion

"They are being persecuted for the failure of the state," Falana stated.

Those convictions have contributed to a huge spike in the number of death sentences awarded in Africa's most populous nation.

Some 659 people were sentenced to hang or die by firing squad in 2014, Amnesty International found in a report earlier this year, compared with 141 the year before.

China is believed to sentence and execute thousands of people annually, but it keeps its data secret. In 55 countries tracked by Amnesty last year, Nigeria accounted for over a quarter of the total 2,466 death penalties handed out.

Chinonye Obiagwu, a lawyer who chairs Nigeria's Human Rights Agenda Network, explained that this is partly because Nigeria imposes a mandatory death sentence on non-heinous crimes like armed robbery. Adultery and sodomy are also punishable by death under the Islamic law in effect in the predominantly Muslim north.

"There is huge public support for the death penalty - about 65 percent," he explained from his Lagos chambers. Such sentiment may be boosted by feelings of insecurity over the course of the insurgency, Obiagwu added.

"When there is armed conflict there is always a tendency for the society to support capital punishment, not only for military offences but also for crimes like armed robbery. So armed conflict increases the possibility of conviction and sentence," Obiagwu said.

Punishing the poor

This worries activists who believe that the system is skewed to discriminate against the poor.

Police, looking to close cases quickly, regularly stage arbitrary raids, the activists told Al Jazeera.

The rich who are picked up can afford bribes, bail and lawyers. Those who cannot often bear the scars of brutal torture by security forces who extract confessions under duress.

Moses Akatugba, who was illegally sentenced to death as a minor in 2005, and is now free, was a victim of one such pick-up. Aged just 16 at the time of his arrest for armed robbery, he recalls being shot in the hand before being taken into police custody, where he was beaten and tied up in an interrogation room.

"They brought the statement and wanted me to say I was the one to write it, but I was not," he remembers. "In the same hand I was shot, they pulled out the nails with pliers. It was a hell of a thing I went through."

Justine Ijeomah of the Port Harcourt-based Human Rights Social Development and Environmental Foundation reckons that, like Akatugba, 90 percent or more of those on death row are poor.

"Politicians steal billions, increase poverty, and they are free," he raged from his modest office, where international awards lie gathering dust against the wall. "The victims are victims of a bad system created by corruption," Ijeomah said.

Fighting back

In reality, only a handful of men have been hanged since the return to civilian rule 16 years ago, the last of them in 2013, so most of those on death row will never be executed.

In part, that's because appeals processes can take years. But governors are also increasingly wary about the ramifications of signing death warrants.

The relatively liberal Lagos State bans executions by hanging or firing squad, and has a historical policy of commuting death sentences to life imprisonment, according to Ayo Obe, a lawyer who previously chaired an advisory committee on the exercise of the prerogative of mercy.

Delta State's former governor, Emmanuel Uduaghan, pardoned 90 death row inmates in 2010, Ijeomah said, and later refused to sign a bill that applied the death penalty to kidnappers.

In May, the day before Uduaghan stepped down, he granted a pardon to Moses Akatugba.

The 54 condemned soldiers were heartened when the army announced this weekend that it would review their sentences.

Still, broad support for capital punishment makes a wholesale abolition impossible, Obiagwu argued.

"We also have some religious issues involved, for instance in the Muslim religion, challenging the death penalty can mean challenging the religion," he explained.

Lai Mohammed, national publicity secretary for the new Nigerian government that has been in power since May 29, did not respond to calls and text messages on whether it would review Nigeria's death sentence.

Behind closed doors

For many of those behind bars, knowing that they will never actually hang is scant consolation.

As convictions clock up, the number of people on death row in Nigeria has ballooned to between 1,000 and 1,500, campaigners estimate. Appeals processes take years and case files can often be lost, condemning inmates to languish there indefinitely.

In Lagos' Kirikiri Maximum Security Prison, Shamuradeen Tunde Olukolu, a softly spoken death row inmate dressed in tattered traditional robes, describes his living quarters as "not conducive".

"We have six people in a cell of 8x9 feet," he said from the prison chapel, which unlike the cells is well-kept using money from charity.

There are no beds, and - at night - no toilet. "We just have to use a plastic bowl between 6pm and 8am," he said. "Sometimes, we just suffocate."

At 68, Olukolu doesn't know if he will see the outside of the compound ever again.

 

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