New groups change Mali's ideological landscape
By Jemal Oumar for Magharebia in Nouakchott – 03/01/12
Events in northern Mali have experts raising new questions about the role and influence of al-Qaeda in the restive region.
A new organisation – Harakat Ansar al-Din (Movement of Religious Supporters) – aims to unite deserters from the Malian army and former members of Moamer Kadhafi's militias under the banner of Sharia law and rights for Touareg residents in Azaouad.
The formation of Ansar al-Din near Kidal by Iyad Ag Aghaly, a prominent Touareg leader in northern Mali, nearly coincided with the announcement of Jamaat Tawhid Wal Jihad Fi Garbi Afriqiya (Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa), which claimed responsibility for the Tindouf kidnapping of Spanish and Italian nationals in October 2011.
The claim, despite previous theories of AQIM involvement, raises questions about new groups' willingness to enter into certain alliances, said analyst Sid Ahmed Ould Tfeil.
The announcement of Ansar al-Din, he added, may permit Ag Aghaly to accuse certain Touareg activists of collaboration with al-Qaeda in kidnapping the Western nationals.
This possibility was also raised by Jeune Afrique on December 12th. In an article on the "Touareg Connection" with AQIM, the paper cited Malian sources as suggesting that 2,000-4,000 fighters had returned from Libya, in order to create a broad autonomous zone.
The same report describes power arrangements between groups in northern Mali as being made and unmade between troubled characters – part-drug traffickers, part-rebels, sometime-Islamists, and often opportunists.
This web of allegiances is dominated by three names: Iyad Ag Aghaly, leader of the Islamic Movement for Liberation of Azaouad (MILA), which he changed into Ansar al-Din; Abdel Karim Targui, emir of AQIM in the region; and Mohamed Najim, former Libyan army colonel who allied with supporters of the late Ibrahim Ag Bahanga to form the National Movement for the Liberation of Azaouad (MNLA) in Tin-Assalak, north of Kidal.
Experts have reached no consensus on the impact of the new groups on the region.
"I don't think that Iyad Ag Aghaly poses a real threat to the ruling regime in Mali," said Sadik Abu Bekren, a university professor and an expert in northern Mali. "This is because the new generation of Touaregs don't see him as a role model, unlike Ibrahim Ag Bahanga, who represented the vision of a real leader to them."
Abu Bakren told Magharebia that the goal was likely political. "In my opinion, Iyad Ag Aghaly led this rebellion and approached al-Qaeda in the region in an attempt to flex his muscles to intimidate the winner of the presidential election in April 2012," he said. "He wants to win major political gains and nothing more; it is the same strategy that he has followed with the current government because he knows it is weak and gives more privileges to those who constitute a true nuisance."
Political analyst Mohamed Said offered an explanation based on necessity. He told Meydane.info: "The return of Iyad Ag Aghaly from Saudi Arabia is the start of the revitalisation of the Touareg movement that seeks to unite the Azaouad province, win autonomy and benefit from natural wealth… however, his establishment of a jihadist popular movement under the name of Ansar al-Din is an attempt to impart an Islamic jihadist nature to rebel movements so as to win the trust of other movements, including al-Qaeda."
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