Tough road for Sahel security
Analysis by Jemal Oumar in Nouakchott for Magharebia – 24/01/2014
Security events of 2013 will resonate in the Maghreb region for a long time to come, unless the countries take action now.
A year that began with the showdown against al-Qaeda-allied extremists in northern Mali ended with the transfer of the terrorist threat to the southern Libya, northern Niger and the border area between Algeria and Tunisia.
The French and African offensive in January 2013 terrorist groups in northern Mali was the most important security event experienced by the region. Gunships and soldiers knocked down the bastions of al-Qaeda, the Movement of Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) and Ansar al-Din.
The operation killed many top terrorists, and destroyed weapons stockpiles and supply routes. But it also sent the survivors fleeing to northern Niger and Libya, where the volatile security situation provided an ideal environment for them to set up shop.
The arsenal he acquired in Libya enabled him to later orchestrate the deadly siege at Algeria's In Amenas gas complex and the Niger suicide bombings in Arlit and Agadez.
"We can say that 2013 was the year of jihad for terrorists," journalist Mohamed Maaloom says. "New places for jihad became open to them and made them go forth and establish contacts with each other. Their presence in Syria was preceded by a co-ordinating stage in Libya and Mali."
These various stop-overs gave them an opportunity to exchange experiences, plans and war strategies, Maaloom adds.
The security situation in Libya was only made worse by the crises in Syria and Egypt, according to the journalist.
"Terrorists started finding the situation there more adequate for connecting with new terrorists in Egypt, aiming to benefit significantly from the success achieved by militant groups in Syria at the beginning of the outbreak of the revolution," Maaloom says.
But the military failure of terrorist groups made them look for alternatives.
In an effort to reach youth in the Maghreb and Sahel, they launched several jihadist websites and set up accounts on social networking sites, especially Twitter, to recruit and communicate with followers.
Recruiting is particularly easy in the Maghreb, analyst Sid Ahmed Ould Tfeil says, because of the widespread use of social media.
He notes that during the course of 2013, "al-Qaeda managed to take control of the big provinces in the north of Mali and strengthen its influence in Libya and Niger. This of course will bring a lot of new recruits who believe in the ideas of al-Qaeda and its strength, for it was able to penetrate Niger and kill some guards and even reached In Amenas."
"This scourge will continue for years to come unless governments of Maghreb countries change their strategies," he warns.
Terrorists exploit the despair of young people, he says. "They convince a young man that salvation lies in the path of jihad."
For his part, activist Mohamed Ag Ahmedou questions the prospects for stability in northern Mali.
Touareg groups that caused part of the turmoil in the past year will pose the same challenges, unless the newly elected government of Mali comes up with a solution to their problem.
This is why bombings continue in Kidal, he tells Magharebia. The pockets of terrorism have not been eliminated and may push some young Touaregs in the coming year to thwart development plans in the north of Mali and target UN forces.
To Mehdi Ould Ahmed Taleb, a Mauritanian writer residing in Saudi Arabia, there is no difference between 2013 and 2014 in terms of confronting the terrorist threat.
He argues that Maghreb countries should follow Mauritania's example and adopt the approach of dialogue with extremists. States that use violence are still unable to eradicate terrorism, he says.
"The phenomenon of terrorism can only be fought if we fight the causes for its appearance in those communities," Ould Ahmed Taleb adds. "The most important causes are injustice among the poorest and the tyranny of the elite in the name of authoritarianism. Authoritarianism refuses to accept dissenting opinions," he says.
"Not listening to these young people pushes them to violence," the writer continues. "Serious dialogue and frank talk with people is what can destroy this phenomenon. As for the methods of force and confiscation of opinion, it will make them hold onto their positions."
According to Mustafa Ould Bachir, a Mauritanian researcher in the history of the Maghreb, the only way to see an end to extremist violence is by working together.
"We cannot unite the efforts of the Maghreb to fight terrorism in all its forms except with a security pact between the five countries. Security and logistic efforts will be brought together to fight and eliminate it," he says.
"You can then have co-operation between countries to educate young people about the dangers of extremism, terrorism, and Takfirism and sensitising them towards moderation, centrism, and the prevention of extreme religiosity, Ould Bachir adds.
Subscribe to our newsletter and get Magharebia's latest articles delivered to your inbox.