US report salutes Maghreb counter-terror efforts
By Adil Dekkaki for Magharebia in Washington – 16/08/10
Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) represents the main terrorist threat in the Greater Sahara and Sahel region, according to a terrorism report recently released by the US State Department.
The Middle East and North Africa overview in the 2009 Country Reports on Terrorism, released to the public on August 5th, found that AQIM was mainly active out of the north-eastern part of Algeria and northern Mali. Al-Qaeda members moved across the Arab Maghreb and Sahel region – especially between Mali, Niger, and Mauritania to mount attacks.
Ransoms for the release of kidnapped foreign hostages provided AQIM with its main source of funding, the report noted. Although governments in the region have tried in the past to confront AQIM, they still need foreign support in building military and law enforcement capabilities, the analysis said.
AQIM operations along "under-governed borders", however, have "posed a challenge" for state responses, Ambassador-at-Large Daniel Benjamin, the co-ordinator for counter-terrorism at the State Department, explained at an August 5th press conference in Washington.
Benjamin called on states in the Arab Maghreb region and around the world to adopt a "no-concession policy" with kidnappers so that their funding flow can be stopped.
Operations by Algerian security services and public rejection of terrorism "have reduced al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM)'s overall effectiveness during the past two years", the new report said.
"Algerian security forces have done a very good job [in defending] Algeria proper and as a result, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb is pushing to the south in the Sahel: Mauritania, Niger and Mali… increasing the number of attacks there," National Counterterrorism Centre deputy director Russ Travers pointed out at the press conference.
The report noted a decrease in the number of high-profile terrorist attacks in Algeria in 2009, although low-level terrorist activities continued in rural areas in the form of roadside bombs and ambushes laid for security forces.
The document stressed that Algeria's Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), which now calls itself al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), does not have any popular support.
As a result of declining numbers, AQIM has been hard at work trying to win the media war, as witnessed by the organisation's ability to conduct an attack and claim responsibility via communiqué within hours.
The report stressed the need for Algerian security forces to adapt continuously to AQIM's changing tactics.
Algeria's efforts to confront terrorist activities were also noted by the report. Algiers recently hosted a meeting of military chiefs of staff from Mali, Libya, Mauritania, and Niger to develop a regional counterterrorism strategy and establish a regional command centre in Tamanrasset. In addition, the Algerian government instituted a programme to hire 100,000 new police and gendarmes, reinforce the borders, augment security at airports, and increase the overall security presence in major cities.
AQIM poses the main terrorist threat to Mauritania, analysts found. The report reviewed a number of attacks that targeted foreign interests and nationals in 2009, the most prominent of which was the suicide attack near the headquarters of the French Embassy in Nouakchott.
Regarding Morocco, the document stated that the government pursued a comprehensive counterterrorism approach that emphasised neutralising existing terrorist cells through traditional intelligence work, pre-emptive security measures and collaboration with regional and international partners.
Building on popular rejection of terrorism, the Moroccan government has worked to reduce extremism, dissuade individuals from becoming radicalised and promote moderate and peaceful religious viewpoints.
Morocco also addressed terrorist financing and money laundering operations through the Financial Intelligence Unit created in April 2009.
Moroccan authorities were able to dismantle a number of terrorist cells. However, the report added, the mere presence of these groups stresses the need to continue to be cautious and vigilant.
The report noted that the Government of Tunisia placed a high priority on combating extremism and terrorism. In addition to using security and law enforcement measures, the Tunisian government also used social and economic programmes, including health care and public education, to ameliorate the conditions that terrorists exploit for recruitment and propaganda purposes.
As to Libya, the US Department of State report noted that the Libyan government continued to co-operate with the United States and international community to combat terrorism and terrorist financing after Tripoli's decision to renounce terrorism and its weapons of mass destruction programs.
The report reviewed statements by Malian President Amadou Toumani Toure on July 20th, 2009 in which he confirmed that Libya, Algeria, and Mali planned to co-ordinate military and intelligence efforts to fight security threats linked to AQIM in the Trans-Sahara region.
The report noted Libya's reconciliation and rehabilitation effort sponsored by the Kadhafi Development Foundation to convince the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), previously affiliated to al-Qaeda, to renounce violence and terrorism. Six leading members of LIFG, held in the Abu Salim prison, issued a document renouncing violence and claiming to adhere to a more sound Islamic theology.
The report said that LIFG's 417-page document, "Revisionist Studies of the Concepts of Jihad, Verification, and Judgment of People", gave detailed interpretations of the "ethics and morals to jihad". It included the rejection of violence as a means to change the political situations in Muslim majority countries whose leaders are Muslim, and condemned the killing of women, children, the elderly, clerics, and the like. Reducing the notion of jihad to fighting with the sword is an error, it added.
The US State Department report added that Libyan authorities released about 144 former LIFG members and 60 members of other jihadist groups from prison after completing their rehabilitation program.
Finally, the report also indicated that the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership (TSCTP) has been successful in building the capacity of Sahara and Sahel region countries and co-ordinating efforts, despite political setbacks over the years caused by coup d'états, ethnic rebellions, and extra-constitutional actions.
The TSCTP is a multi-faceted, multi-year strategy designed to combat violent extremism, and marginalize terrorist organisations by strengthening individual-country and regional counterterrorism capabilities, enhancing and institutionalizing co-operation among the region's security and intelligence organisations, promoting democratic governance, and discrediting terrorist ideology.
The overall goals of the initiative are to enhance the indigenous capacities of governments in the pan-Sahel (Mauritania, Mali, Chad, and Niger, as well as Nigeria, Senegal, and Burkina Faso); to confront the challenge posed by terrorist organisations in the trans-Sahara; and to facilitate co-operation between those countries and US partners in the Maghreb (Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia).
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