Failed AQIM assassination spurs Mauritania debate
By Mohamed Yahya Ould Abdel Wedoud
February 9, 2011
Al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) issued a statement Monday (February 7th) that said the aim behind its failed Nouakchott attack was to assassinate President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz. Mauritanian troops successfully defended the capital but questions were raised by some about the ability of suicide bombers to enter the country.
“Al-Qaeda operates in a vast region extending from northern Mali to Chad,” explained Islamic movement expert Mohamed Mahmoud Ould Abou El Maali. “They have also started to find a foothold in Niger; something that makes any attempt to geographically besiege them a difficult thing for the Mauritanian army or any other army.”
The AQIM statement said that the terrorists managed “to get past military fortifications and barriers en route to Nouakchott to assassinate the president”, billed in the text as an “agent of France”.
“[Abdel Aziz] is the first president in the region to declare war on al-Qaeda and tracks them down in their stronghold on the outskirts of the Malian desert; something that other regimes in the region have avoided,” Ould Abou El Maali told Magharebia.
The analyst added that the al-Qaeda operation “was a clear message to the region’s presidents, in which it warned them against any military or economic crackdown on the organisation”.
“The problem is that al-Qaeda has also started to explore the Senegalese and Malian borders with Mauritania, with the aim of allowing its elements to easily infiltrate into the depth of Mauritania amid tough and complex terrain characterised by dense forests,” Ould Abou El Maali said.
The Mauritanian army was making progress on securing the borders, having set up security points on the northern and eastern borders, journalist Isselmou Ould Moustaffa said. “Therefore, we notice that al-Qaeda elements this time used uncontrolled border points, such as the Malian-Senegalese borders.”
Ould Moustaffa added that the AQIM message was “a political manoeuvre and nothing else”. He told Magharebia that “all the data confirms that al-Qaeda’s recent operation against Mauritania was not targeting the president but the French embassy and a military barracks, as shown in the official account and in the confessions of al-Qaeda elements who were arrested”.
“Al-Qaeda’s announcement of the assassination attempt against the president aims to terrorise the head of the ruling regime in Mauritania and make him feel that he is targeted,” Ould Moustaffa said. “This is very obvious for a simple reason: with its operations, al-Qaeda is targeting the Mauritanian state, and therefore, is targeting the president whether it announced that or not.”
Politicians were equally critical of the AQIM claim, with Union for the Republic Party spokesman Moktar Ould Abdellahi saying the message was “to say that they still have a presence”.
“The terrorist organisations in northern Mali and the Sahara have lost the compass that has been guiding them for several months following the blows that were dealt them by the Mauritanian army. The latest operation has shown that al-Qaeda fighters need to carry out a major operation to say that they still exist. However, they no longer have a presence,” Ould Abdellahi said.
The president “has adopted a tough security policy against al-Qaeda”, Habib Ly said. “In addition, he has organised a lot of religious gatherings aimed at convincing young people to relinquish extremism and fanaticism; something in which al-Qaeda saw as a serious, and even daring, attempts to eliminate them.”
Magharebia is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Defence, Africa Command.
The following article is republished with permission from Magharebia.
Muslim Brotherhood expert discusses Maghreb Salafism
By Houda Trabelsi
October 1, 2010
Alaya Allani is a professor of contemporary history at the University of Manouba in Tunis and a specialist in political Islam. He has published several studies on the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafist currents in the Arab Maghreb. Magharebia sat down with Allani in Tunis to discuss the dangers of the spread of Salafism and what he sees as the root causes of the problem.
Magharebia: You have warned against the dangers of militant Salafist groups. What exactly do you mean?
Alaya Allani: First of all, we must stress the need to differentiate between Salafism as a conservative religious current that has been known throughout history for its call to return to pure faith and for its insistence on its stances that reject violence and hold to the legitimacy of rulers and the need to disobey them, even if there were some violations committed, as long as those rulers preserved the identity of the nation, and between Salafism in its contemporary meaning, which coincided with the appearance of the political Islam current.
We now generally talk about appeasing Salafism and militant Salafism; scientific Salafism and another jihadist Salafism. In general, we can say that the militant Salafist groups you mentioned in your question are mainly represented in the jihadist Salafist groups and in some other scientific Salafist currents.
There are common factors that led to the appearance of jihadist currents. These currents are either external or internal. No one can deny the role played by some Western countries in supporting the Afghan jihad to overthrow the communist regime in Afghanistan, and the assistance rendered in this effort by some Gulf countries.
As to internal factors, tension exists between the prevailing jihadist currents and local Muslim governments because of differences in understanding religious texts. Jihadists usually embrace the apparent meaning of texts, accusing all those who oppose their understanding of texts of being infidels, and permit the use of arms against those who oppose them. This is the most dangerous thing in these groups, as there is absence of dialog and physical liquidation becomes the prevailing form of dealing.
Magharebia: How widespread are these types of groups?
Allani: The militant Salafist groups are spread in all Muslim countries with varying degrees. Their presence in Asia, whether in Caucasus countries, Pakistan, Afghanistan, India or some Arab countries, has grown over the last two decades. As to Africa, except for Egypt, their presence is considered relatively new in the region. This may be linked to the implications of modernisation experiences in these countries, where the failure of pattern of development and rising rates of illiteracy played a role in the expansion of pockets of poverty.
The state no longer became the primary sponsor of economy and the main employer of individuals; something that contributed to the rising tensions. The most prominent example may be found in Algeria in October 1988 when there was popular anger over the deteriorating living conditions of the people and over some social and cultural problems and the inability of the state to meet the basic needs of population. In this environment, the Salafist current, as represented by the Islamic Salvation Front, tried to take advantage of this anger and entered into an intimidation battle with the authorities. The result was victims, bloodshed and cancellation of election results, and then outbreak of a long wave of terrorism that almost destroyed everything.
When we check the social base on which the Front built its presence, we find that the marginalised categories in popular and poor neighbourhoods gave their votes in large numbers to that group in the 1991 elections. In Morocco, investigations proved that most of the members of jihadist cells in that country hail from poor neighbourhoods or shantytowns.
The liberal, Islamic and leftist movements started presenting their alternatives. However, the alternative offered by the Islamic Salvation Front, which included a minority of moderate Islamists and a majority of extremists with Salafist inclinations (whether scientific or jihadist), won the trust of voters. This led to the cancellation of election results in 1992, and after that Algeria entered into a bloody decade of terrorism in which 100,000 victims were killed.
Then al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) came at the beginning of the third millennium to further confuse cards and to involve some African countries, such as Mali, Chad and Niger which had no previous experience with the activities of Islamic armed groups.
Magharebia: What are the most important principles of Salafist groups present in the Maghreb?
Allani: The principles of the jihadist Salafist current in the Maghreb region are derived from the literature of symbols of al-Qaeda: Bin Laden, al-Zawahri, al-Maqdisi, Abu Qatada and others. This literature urges people to consider jihad as an individual duty rather than a collective obligation, and it accuses the society and state of kufr because of their negligence in implementing God’s Sharia.
Magharebia: Are the factors that led to the growth of these Salafist groups in the Arab Maghreb political, social or ideological, or are there any other factors?
Allani: The growth of these Salafist groups in the Arab Maghreb is more due to political and social factors than it is to ideological factors. The wide gap between the social classes increases the state of social tensions, and the violent dealing with ethnic and cultural diversity has contributed to the instigation of sectarian feelings.
As to ideological factors, they come last.
Magharebia is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Defence, Africa Command.
The following commentary is reprinted with permission from World Socialist Web Site.
France steps up military intervention in Sahel
© World Socialist Web Site
By Kumaran Ira
September 2, 2010
France has seized upon reports of the execution of a French aid worker by Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in July to escalate its military intervention in its former colonies in the strategic Sahel region of Western Africa.
French aid worker Michel Germaneau, 78, who was kidnapped in April while working for a children’s charity in Niger, was reportedly executed by AQIM in retaliation for a joint Franco-Mauritanian raid on July 22 on an AQIM camp in northern Mali. The raid ostensibly was an attempt to liberate him. On July 25, in a recording broadcast by the Al Jazeera TV network, AQIM said Germaneau had been killed in “revenge” for the death of its members in the raid.
Having announced the death of Germaneau on July 26, the French government declared that it would wage war in the Sahel region, an area along the south of the Sahara desert, running through Mauritania, Mali, Niger and southern Algeria.
On July 27, French Prime Minister François Fillon declared, “France is at war with Al Qaeda… Combat against terrorism, and AQIM in particular, will intensify”. He added that “roughly 400 fighters are waging a merciless struggle against the countries of the region and against our interests”.
On August 16, the government set the “Vigipirate” anti-terrorist alert system to “red” status, the second highest possible alert level.
France will increase its own military activities and its collaboration with regimes in the Sahel. Axel Poniatowski, head of a parliamentary foreign affairs commission, said, “France will provide ‘logistical support’ for military actions by Mauritania, Mali, or Niger against AQIM”.
The BBC commented, “France, as well as other European nations and the United States, have been training soldiers here for many years. This is the first time, however, they have admitted to being involved in an operation against AQIM”.
On July 26 and 27, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner visited Mauritania, Mali and Niger. Speaking in Niamey, the capital of Niger, he said, “We will be alongside our Nigerien, Malian, Mauritanian friends”. Asked about the possibility of installing bases in the region, he said, “We are not going to install bases. We have very clear defence agreements”.
In fact, reports suggest French troops already treat bases in the region as their own. The news magazine Le Point writes, “France is, with the U.S. and U.K., one of the three countries with Special Forces that can carry out completely independent operations. The units, highly trained in desert warfare, have been in the Sahel for months, train regional armed forces, know the region well, and can even if needed operate clandestinely there. They have already done it, and more than once! French units know the Sahel, and the technical means at their disposal – reconnaissance satellites, planes to intercept communications, etc. – are perfectly adapted to this theatre of operations”.
Questions on the official story
Reports from Al Jazeera and British business intelligence firm Menas question the credibility of French official statements, including on how the raid took place, its location, and even whether Germaneau was in fact executed. There is also evidence of an aerial raid launched from Tessalit – an old French colonial base in north-eastern Mali near the Algerian border, also used by U.S. Special Forces – in which Algeria could have been involved. French officials denied that there were aerial operations, or that Tessalit or Algerian forces were involved.
On August 8, Al Jazeera published a report by Jeremy Keenan, an expert on the region at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies. He charged that “France, Mauritania and Algeria have gone to extreme lengths to cover up what actually happened”. He noted a July 22 AFP dispatch that cited “a foreign military source in Bamako as saying that the raid on a suspected al Qaeda base (in north-west Mali) was just a smoke screen”.
He continued, “based on the reports received from well-placed regional sources shortly after midday on July 22, there had been intense air traffic around Tessalit during the night and early morning, and that Algerians, supported by French special forces, had led an assault into the adjoining Tigharghar Mountains in an attempt to rescue Germaneau”.
Keenan wrote that French President Nicolas Sarkozy was advised by his defence council at a July 19 meeting, “in which the prime minister, foreign and interior ministry, the head of the armed services, representatives of the foreign, interior and military intelligence services and [Sarkozy’s chief of staff] Claude Guéant participated”. He added, “[T]he decision to intervene in the Sahel was not taken lightly and would certainly have involved an appreciation of the views of Algeria’s DRS”, its military intelligence service.
Guéant reportedly met with DRS chief General Mohamed Mediëne in Algiers on June 20.
Keenan questioned whether Germaneau was executed after the July 22 raid, or if he died before. He suffered from heart disease and had been denied access to critical medicine. Keenan writes, “[T]he last evidence that he was alive was received by the French authorities on May 14. Sources in the region believe that he may have died shortly after that time”.
He pointed out, “The only testimony of his execution has come from a local Kidal dignitary, who has been involved in previous hostage negotiations and is a thoroughly discredited source. Moreover, the very vague nature of the demands that accompanied the threat to execute Germaneau on July 26, combined with the fact that no negotiators appear to have been mobilised within Mali, as has been the pattern with previous hostage cases, must also have alerted the French authorities to question whether Germaneau was still alive”.
Geo-strategic interests and France’s “war on terror”
The declaration of a new “war on terror” is an ominous, reactionary event, whose basic social content is now well known. Intelligence services and special forces will be given free rein to use massive violence against ex-colonial regions, while the population of their home country is to be terrorised by constant warnings from the political establishment of possible attacks.
The military escalation in the Sahel under the banner of a “war on terror” is aimed at pursuing France’s strategic and commercial interests. The 2008 French white paper on defence, which outlined France’s global geo-strategy, identified the Sahel as one of four critical regions for French imperialism. The region is a key supplier of oil, minerals, and uranium.
Uranium is one critical interest for French imperialism in the region. France’s nuclear industry – which supplies 78 percent of the country’s electricity generating capacity and makes €3 billion in yearly profits from energy exports alone – relies on Niger for 25 percent of the 12,400 tonnes of uranium oxide concentrate that it consumes yearly.
The world’s third-largest uranium producer, Niger is expected to increase its yearly uranium output from 3,500 to 10,500 metric tonnes. French state-owned nuclear company Areva has exploited these uranium reserves for 40 years. It mines the Arlit and Akouta deposits, which produced over 3,000 metric tonnes in 2008. Areva has invested €1.2 billion in the Imouraren deposit, which is expected to produce almost 5,000 metric tons per year for over 35 years.
French hegemony in the region is threatened by the growing influence of China. Beijing has emerged as a rival buyer of uranium in Niger, from the Azelik and Teguidda deposits. It has also paid $5 billion for the right to prospect for oil in the Agadem oilfield in eastern Niger. Africa Confidential writes, “China’s relatively new involvement vastly strengthens Niger’s power to bargain with France”.
France’s military intervention has the backing of Washington. Last November, U.S. Coordinator for Counterterrorism Daniel Benjamin told the U.S. Senate, “French ties in this region remain pivotal, and France has expressed a sincere desire to cooperate with the United States in this area of the world. The Paris meeting in September was the first senior-level meeting that mapped out a way forward for such cooperation. Our strategic counterterrorism priorities in this region are very similar, focusing as they do on building law enforcement, military capacity, and development”.
On July 30, the Wall Street Journal commented that “Paris’s plan to increase its involvement [in the Sahel], gives reason to hope that France is ready to retake the lead in this increasingly hot front”. It added that “predictably, not of all of France’s former colonies are welcoming the erstwhile colonial master’s return to assertiveness”.
In the face of growing competition for markets and natural resources, France’s raids in the Sahel set precedent for further military escalations. French media recently indicated that the ruling class is considering fighting major wars against Turkey, Egypt, or even China. (See: “Media demands France prepare for world war“)
A French “war on terror” in Africa will be used to legitimate France’s deeply unpopular participation in the U.S.-led “war on terror” in Afghanistan and Pakistan, to which France is deploying the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle. A recent poll found that 70 percent of the French population opposes the war in Afghanistan. In an August 26 speech, however, Sarkozy said France would “remain engaged in Afghanistan, with its allies, as long as is necessary”.
The following post is reprinted with permission from Roads to Iraq, intel blog.
African coast is full of American and French spies
© Roads to Iraq
May 27, 2010
About a month ago, the Algerian Army Chief of Staff of the Algerian, Lieutenant General Ahmad Saleh Kaid told his African coast-line counterparts that:
The absence of coordinated collective action to deter the “terror” threats, will open the doors to the foreign intervention.
These are not empty words, Algerian newspaper Echorouk warned that the African coast “Al-Saheel” is full of French and U.S. spies., pretending to be tourists.
The newspaper confirmed that under the slogan of “fighting terrorism”, African countries in the region invite foreign [agents], who want to get involved at any cost, to get their hand on the “war on terror” card that is usable in various other fields.
Countries such as Mali, and Niger witnesses large presence of American and French military officers in civilian clothes visit the countries as tourists, linked to a complex network of military and tribal local contacts, in order to obtain as much information as possible about terrorist activity in the desert region, since the successive abductions and killings of European and American nationals.
The newspaper said that the struggle to control the sources of energy in Africa and maintain secure routes in the coast “Sahel”, as well as to reduce the China and Russia surge in the region.
Economic spying has become a classic geopolitical strategy of the modern times, but it is remarkable that institutions that were originally trained to do political and security spying are “converted” to do the economy spying.