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Sahel terror alliances start to fray

By Jemal Oumar for Magharebia in Nouakchott – 16/11/12

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Time is running out for the terror groups holding northern Mali hostage. African troops are ready to move in and Ansar al-Din is reportedly willing to sever ties.

Now that the countdown for war is on, al-Qaeda offshoot Movement for Tawhid and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) also faces a population that finally feels empowered to stand up to its captors.

The terrorists no longer have allies in Islamist group Ansar al-Din. Where the Touareg fighters once accepted the terrorists in their towns, they decided on November 6th to officially repudiate their former friends.

"There is no doubt that Ansar al-Din's new position will weaken al-Qaeda," Journal Tahalil director and political analyst Iselmou Ould Moustafa told Magharebia, "AQIM loses a local supporter that it has always depended upon to consolidate its influence on the ground."

After engaging in peace talks with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) mediator for the Mali crisis, Burkina Faso President Blaise Compaoré, Ansar al-Din promised to reject extremism and terrorism, fight trans-border organised crime and engage in a dialogue with all parties to the Mali crisis.

The group said, however, that it would not fight against its "Muslim brothers".

"From this, we can understand Ansar al-Din's real position towards al-Qaeda, namely, that while it abandoned its alliance with jihadist groups, it won't force them from the region," Ould Moustafa added. "This is because Ansar al-Din wants to disavow itself from these groups in order to protect itself against any international military attack."

The new position of their erstwhile local allies has affected al-Qaeda's interests and weakened its cohesion.

But the alliance was already tenuous, analysts say.

"These groups are brought together only by joint economic interests and unity in crime, and ideological extremism," Touareg journalist and blogger Mohamed Ag Ahmedu said.

"It is natural then that the alliance between these groups would crack when they feel that there is an imminent danger that they can't rebuff or when the interests of one element are affected at the expense of others in leadership or division of spoil," Ag Ahmedu added.

The terror groups are also facing internal fissures. Hicham Bilal, the Gao commander of MUJAO, recently abandoned the group with some of his elements and returned to Niger.

"These madmen are nothing like the children of God; they're smuggling drugs, they do everything that Islam rejects," Bilal told AFP on November 8th.

Abu Bakr al-Ansari, an analyst of Azawad affairs, says that Touareg activists deserve the credit for thwarting the terrorists' plan for northern Mali.

"We shouldn't forget one of the most important reasons for the collapse of terrorist groups in our region was the resistance of Touareg traditional leaders, intellectuals, and expatriates to jihadist Salafist ideology," al-Ansari tells Magharebia.

"They actually reaped the fruit of that effort eight months ago when they managed to convince many of the young people to come back to reason," he says.

AQIM and MUJAO suddenly found themselves all alone, far from home, after losing local support.

"It required much effort to rid Touareg young people of these destructive ideas. This is similar to what happened in Anbar province in Iraq," al-Ansari adds.

The Ansar al-Din position reversal did not come out of a vacuum, he adds. "They saw that the feelings of the Azawad people had begun to turn against them, so they were forced to engage in dialogue," Ansari says.

Poet and educator Adel Mahmoud says his fellow Malians would like Ansar al-Din to return to its roots, which have no connection to terrorists.

"That was our goal when we announced the independence of the territory of Azawad. We wanted to use Ansar al-Din's religious verve and make it the spiritual wing of the Movement of the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA)," he explains.

"Most Azawad people are not comfortable seeing their children join terror groups," Mahmoud adds.

Fractures within terror groups

"It is natural that the alliance between these groups melts away when they sense the presence of a danger to which they cannot respond," Touareg journalist and blogger Mohamed Ag Ahmadou tells Magharebia.

The appointment of Abou El Hammam as emir for the Sahara region has also impacted relations between al-Qaeda bosses.

According to Algerian newspaper Ennahar, infighting escalated over the past month between Abdel Hamid Abou Zeid, the leader of AQIM's "Tarek ibn Ziyad" brigade and Mokhtar Belmokhtar (aka Laaouar).

Abou Zeid called Belmokhtar an infidel and described his battalion as "ignorant outlaws".

"If it proves anything," political observer Sayed Ahmed Ould Outfeil says, "it's that internal disintegration and discontent within the various armed Islamic organisations in northern Mali are closing in."

"I think that internal strife existed before, but the group was always capable of controlling the situation," Ould Outfeil adds.

Things are different today, he says. Rivalries and dissention have arisen over distribution of ransom revenues, while security crackdowns and defections have cut the number of respected elders able to mediate disputes between terrorists.

There are also more than 3,000 West African troops prepared to oust them from northern Mali.

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  1. Anonymous thumb

    fares 2012-12-1

    If the military action is taken in the North of Mali just say goodbye! (Violation of resources in the Arab Maghreb. This is the plan of Americans and France to set up a military base and for France to take back its colonies.) This reflects the American interests in the light of the suffocating economic crisis in these countries.


  2. Anonymous thumb

    MOUSLEM 2012-11-30

    God willing, a caliphate in the way of the prophet-hood. May God grant victory to my brothers! By God, I have wished a lot I were with them against the infidels and hypocrites.


  3. Anonymous thumb

    معتز 2012-11-29

    The words are mere lines that lack the bitter truth, which you can’t even dare disclose to a friend let alone an enemy. People of Mecca know better its pathways. The North of Mali will be a cemetery for invading forces. As an example to support this, the valiant resistance of Al Fourqan battalion alone against the army of the agent Ould Abdelaziz despite the valiance of the Mauritanian army and its power to wage desert war. It is an army trained by CIA and upgraded in France and the battalions of the Touareg Ouled Hem. Needless to talk now about the fact that the group has extended. Support is coming God willing! Tomorrow will come soon and we will see.


  4. Anonymous thumb

    BABA TRAORE 2012-11-26

    The whole world needs to know that the MNLA is the one that sold these weapons to the jihadists. We have evidence. The MNLA was not mandated to speak in the names of other communities, which constitute 90% of northern Mali. They are a lazy group made up of bandits and thieves who strut around in Europe to tell stupidities in the name of the Songhay, Fulas and other people from northern Mali, who don’t know them and who think that the Tuaregs have always lived off theft and raiding. Bilal Ag Acherif never built a well in his village during his 40 years of adventuring in Libya. These Tuaregs are lazy, stateless, robbing us Songhay people, who know them. One thing is sure and another is certain: no Songhay and no Fula is ever going to accept to be ruled by the dirty Tuaregs. The tomb of Askia in Gao goes back five centuries and the grand mosque of Timbuktu is part of the UNESCO’s world heritage, but what about this group of Tuaregs who want to impose their history? No one can impose these lazy ungrateful imposters on the Songhays and Fulas rightfully in northern Mali. The two French students kidnapped in Hombori were abducted by MNLA members and were re-sold to Iyad the terrorist . May the Europeans understand that these Tuaregs are liars, ungrateful, thieves and sloths. They never build anything and they pillage everything in Mali.


  5. Anonymous thumb

    Bouba 2012-11-22

    The subject is very interesting to analyse at a distance far from the field of hostilities. I would also like a precise definition of Azawad in terms of geographic territory, determining its limits, its neighbours, the populations that compose it, the communities that live in it, its historical past, its economic activities, and its underground resources. This objective analysis will lead you to change your conclusions, I am certain. Azawad, as defined by the MNLA, cannot be run and administered in peace by a single Tuareg community, which, once again, does not have a monopoly on the war for demanding rights—even if they are legitimate. I think that your newspaper is too professional not to go in depth with things before drawing quite biased conclusions. I thank you for the effort for analysis that you are making and I beg you to go the field to better enlighten your readers. Very logically, you cannot be quite far from the Azawad populations and call yourself an expert in this region and give advice on resolving current crises in the territory in question.


  6. Anonymous thumb

    نجيب زنايدية 2012-11-20

    This is an interesting topic and a very good analysis. We conclude from it the fragility of alliances between these extremists organizations because of the fragility of their ideological background. This explains their rapid collapse and fragmentation. However the question remains, what makes the ideas of these organizations spread so quickly among our young people?


  7. Anonymous thumb

    Yacine 2012-11-18

    First I think we need to stop using and abusing the notion of ‘international community’ for matters to get a bit clearer concerning Mali, the Sahel and North Africa. Terrorism has taken more than 10 years to implant itself in northern Mali. It will take three times as long to dislodge it, and there must also be social justice there and the Western powers must put back their agendas in their safes. The solution to the problems in Mali is found in Bamako. It is pointless to go looking for it in Paris, Ouagadougou, Algiers or New York (the UN). With concern to the latter, we have seen its solutions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and most of all, in Palestine—ruin, nothing but ruin and ruin. The Malians need to learn how to talk to each other. They need to decide for themselves what future they want to offer their children. They need to learn to live their lives within all parameters (90% Muslim, blacks, whites, Moors, Berbers, etc.). In the current state of things, they mostly need to avoid sending in the Bambaras to fight people in the North. The timing is wrong because this would open the door to Hell wide not just for Mali, but all of West and North Africa (unless, of course, that is the whole point). –Yacine, an expert on the Sahel


  8. Anonymous thumb

    أحمد الفرجانى 2012-11-18

    Most of what we see in these pictures are Libyan weapons that were smuggled from Libya through Tbou. This is because they have looted them from battle fronts. Some of them were in the ranks of rebels and some were in the ranks of Kadhafi battalions. The question that arises is: don’t you think with me that these weapons could be used again to fight Libyans in the south of Libya if it confronts military raids by NATO against rebels in Mali, especially because there are large numbers of Azawad people in the south of Libya. Maybe they will seize any opportunity to destabilize the wide and dangerous Sahraoui triangle. Please analyze and reply to this! Thank you! Ahmed Farjani, a political activist. Sebha, Libya.


  9. Anonymous thumb

    ليبيا حره 2012-11-16

    We ask God to support our Mujahid brothers, turn the plots of crusaders and their hypocrites allies against them.