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US report salutes Maghreb counter-terror efforts

By Adil Dekkaki for Magharebia in Washington – 16/08/10

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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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  1. Anonymous thumb

    يوسف عمر الطه 2012-9-18

    It is true that we shouldn’t be quiet about these things done by Americans. But at the same time, we shouldn’t act in this way because we shouldn’t forget that the writers of the film are a group of Egyptian Copts. May God calm our minds and relieve the distresses of everyone!


  2. Anonymous thumb

    Essid 2010-8-29

    To Arabgirl89- I think they care about the Western tourists’ money, not the tourists themselves. Tourism requires very little investment, very few resources and very little education. This is a wonderful combination for corrupt leaders. They hope that the uneducated population will lack the intelligence to formulate a real, persistent opposition. Investment, resources and education are all expenses these leaders can avoid. As for limiting symbolically religious things such as a beard, part of the explanation is an image that the corrupt leaders want to present to their target consumers, but it has more to do with the fear of religious leaders. Although people are almost always smart enough to notice when their leaders’ words contradict their actions and their social reality, people deprived of education have no way to explain the problems in their lives. To explain their problems, they turn to the familiar: religion. Religion has its own hierarchy, which threatens the political elites. However, lack of religion is clearly not the cause of corruption. Take a look at secular countries like Canada and its human rights record, and then at Iran, which has a religious government, and its record. Regarding counter-terrorism strategies, the “war on terrorism” is in itself a lucrative industry. Even if, according to Rand Corporation, strategies including developmental efforts are far more effective than pure punitive combat, they do not offer Western subsidies to these leaders that are in turn used pay for weapons contracts with the West (after the leaders skimmed off the top).


  3. Anonymous thumb

    Arabgirl89 2010-8-23

    sure because these countries care more for the western tourists visiting them rather than their own people...especially in tunisia where people are not free to wear nikab,have a beard and even polic are near the mosques...this disgusts me. oh by the way 'Essid' are you from Tunisia?? it seem we share the same name :-)


  4. Anonymous thumb

    Essid 2010-8-21

    It is hard to find any value in praise for counter-terrorist efforts from a country whose counter-terrorist efforts have failed so miserably. Perhaps Pol Pot could praise us on our protection of human life, Kim Jong-Il could praise us on our democratic institutions, Stalin could praise us for our protection of human rights and Hitler could praise us on our interethnic respect. I am sorry, but the US launched a “war on terror” that its leaders knew would fail in advance. The US knows for a fact that preventative measures are far more productive at combating ideological extremists than punitive measures. Waging war on extremism means convincing the extremists and their potential recruits that extremism is not a viable option to remedy their problems in life. To do so, you need social development. People need education, job opportunities, healthcare and so on. To ensure the stable provision of these things, military protection is necessary, but intelligence agencies would likely be more successful at weeding out the extremists in a successfully developing society than tanks and mortars would in a failing society. I am firmly convinced that a poor person who gets an education and who has the opportunity to work or to create his own business and improve his life is far less likely to choose terrorism than a poor person who sees their house blown up in a war on terror – something that makes it difficult to understand who is the good guy and who is the bad guy.


  5. Anonymous thumb

    ahmadsouhil 2010-8-20

    This is super. When I read your articles, it would seem they are written my His Majesty, the King of Morocco. Since when has Morocco fought terrorists? Oh, I forgot, this is hot air. Personally, I think that there is some bias. Algeria and Algeria alone is still the one to face terrorism at time when all the nations want to make Algeria a ground for experimentation and Morocco and its king have hosted terrorists of all walks. Now, Morocco is winning the Palme d’Or for fighting terrorism. It is shameful that, at a time when Algeria is directly facing barbarian hordes, it neighbours in West and East – with the exception of Libya – are doing their business on Algeria’s back.


  6. Anonymous thumb

    Anonymous 2010-8-17

    I wonder if the US government is on the same wavelength as its partner when it analyses the phenomenon of terrorism. The example of Tunisia, the country least affected by this, but which screams the loudest and take relatively draconian measures against, will suffice for me. The charge of terrorism in Tunisia, seems to me to most often be aimed at journalists who try to denounce the state’s excesses and at activists in favour of a civil society. A protest held by minors against corruption and unemployment such as the one in Redeyef has nothing to do with terrorism. Sending in armed security forces up to our necks; shooting into the crowd; besieging the city; carrying out mass arrests, which are followed by torture, rape and show trials cannot be considered as the “Tunisian government plac(ing) a high priority on combating extremism and terrorism,” and neither can the ban of the Human Rights League. What does “promoting democratic governance” mean? Does it have to do with the appeal published in the Tunisian press on 8 August of last year from 65 important figures appealed for Ben Ali to run for another five years in the 2014 presidential elections? It has barely been nine months since he was elected the least time according to his own terms. In 2014, he will be 78 years old and his constitution, which he himself changed so he could be in office for five terms, stipulates that the maximum age of a candidate should not be above 75. Another rape of the constitution is thus on its way. Among the signatories on the appeal, I noted the name of Zawaya panellist, the honest sociologists and journalists Khemaies Khayati. So far, Magharebia has not covered this information. I think that it is well worth the bother and that these deserves to be commented on.