Berenice Stories

Short Stories by John Oakes

Posts Tagged ‘Mali

WILL PRESIDENT OBAMA BE FORCED INTO A ‘SHOW OF STRENGTH’ IN LIBYA?

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As President Obama strives for re-election, pressures may be mounting on him to strike at those who killed the US ambassador and his colleagues in Benghazi on 11th September. The process of identifying and selecting the possible assassins in Libya is well advanced. The President’s reactions in this matter will be guided by public opinion at home as well as by strategic imperatives. To allow the killer of one of his ambassadors to go unpunished will have both domestic and international repercussions. Whatever the outcome, the killing of Ambassador Stevens will change the way US diplomats conduct their business abroad and security considerations will limit their effectiveness.
There is no shortage of those who suggest that the USA has lost influence in Africa as a result of President Obama’s weakness. There are indications, for example, that the Egyptian army is ‘retiring’ many officers suspected of being too close to the USA. The al Qaeda led destabilisation of Mali is likely to affect Niger, Chad, Burkina Faso and Mauritania. The tension between the Muslim north and the Christian south of Nigeria will open up many opportunities for the promoters of violence, notably the al Qaeda franchise Boko Haram.
The US policy in Libya must be seen in the wider context. ‘Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb’, now in de facto control of much of Mali, has been seeking a foothold in Libya and has found friends in the Salafist ‘Ansar al Sharia’ militia brigade in Benghazi and Derna. The US has long been interested in Derna, the seaport some miles to the east of Benghazi, where a number of young men were recruited to fight with the Taliban in Afghanistan and some have been returned to Libya by way of Guantanamo.
One Derna resident in particular has a most interesting profile according to Wikileaks. He is Abu Sufian Ibrahim Ahmed Hamuda Bin Qumu who was a prisoner in Guantanamo Bay for six years. He was a member of the ‘Libyan Islamic Fighting Group’ and later trained in an al Qaeda camp in Afghanistan and fought there as a commander of Arab volunteers. When in 2007 the Guantanamo Bay issue became and embarrassment to the Obama administration Bin Qumu was released and returned to Libya where the Gadaffi regime agreed to keep him in prison. However, in 2010 he was released from the notorious Abu Salim jail as part of an amnesty for anti-regime prisoners. He is one of founders of the ‘Ansar al Sharia’ militia in Derna and Benghazi and it is this group which is suspected of the attack on the US embassy on 11th September. A 30,000 strong street protest in Benghazi led to the disbandment of ‘Ansar al Sharia’ but there have recently been a series armed attacks in Benghazi which indicate that many militiamen have gone to ground, taking their arms and ammunition with them.
The investigation which followed the killings on 11th September is not yet complete but an interesting hypothesis is developing along the following lines. Soon after the civil war in Libya got underway the US established a CIA post in an annex near the US embassy in Benghazi. From here signals traffic between Libyan suspects and al Qaeda units were monitored. It is probable that the location and function of this annex became known to the Ansar al Sharia militia. It is also supposed, on good grounds, that this militia was recruited by ‘Al Qaeda in the Arab Maghreb’.
It is argued that ‘Ansar al Sharia’ made a plan to attack the embassy and the annex which were surrounded by high walls and guarded by some US security specialists and some locally employed contract personnel. The plan was left ‘on the vine’ to await an opportune moment for its execution.
That came on 11th September when angry crowds demonstrated outside the US embassy against a now notorious and ill-conceived anti-Islamic video. Ambassador Stevens was also visiting the embassy on 11th September, apparently to interview a Lebanese contractor. Did Ansar al Sharia have foreknowledge of the ambassador’s presence in Benghazi?
When the protest started outside the embassy ‘Ansar al Sharia’ militiamen launched their attack. They were appropriately armed and used mortars to lob bombs over the high walls. The nature of the attack in which weapons were used skilfully means that experienced fighters were involved. It was well planned operation which took the form of two assaults, the first on the embassy and the second on the so called annex situated about half a mile distant.
US drones launched above Benghazi and Derna soon after the attack picked up telecoms between ‘Ansar al Sharia’ operatives in Benghazi and known al Qaeda units. It is, therefore, likely that the attackers were linked with ‘Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb’. Among the American personnel evacuated from Benghazi after the attack were about a dozen C.I.A. operatives and contractors whose presence may have been betrayed to ‘Ansar al Sharia’. There are few foreigners in Benghazi at the moment and the presence of so many Americans must have been obvious. It is has always been a city where news spreads rapidly by word of mouth. Unless the US personnel lived without locally employed domestic servants their lives would have been subject to the closest scrutiny.
President Obama will have a number of options to consider. He has, however, made it clear that the US will punish the killer of Ambassador Stevens and his colleagues. What will he do?

LIBYA’S POROUS SOUTHERN BORDERS AND THE ILLICIT TRADE IN WEAPONS, DRUGS AND PEOPLE (UPDATED 20th FEBRUARY MARCH 2017)

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Abdul Wahab Hassain Qaid, a sometime senior member of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, is now commander of border security in the southern part of the country. He is the brother of Abou Yahya al-Libi, Bin Laden’s second in command, who was killed in Pakistan in early June by an American drone. Quaid is believed to have received 170 million dinars ($120 million) and a fleet of four-wheel drive vehicles from Qatar, presumably to carry out his duties. This is an interesting appointment in the light the relationship between Libya and the US following the killing of the US ambassador in Benghazi on 11th September this year. The border is of interest to the USA and the al Qaida franchises operating in the region.

Abdul Wahab Hassain Qaid is now responsible for Libya’s volatile south which borders Algeria, Niger, Chad and the Darfur region of Sudan. Smuggling routes from sub-Saharan Africa to the Mediterranean coast run through the Libyan oasis cities of Murzuq, its neighbouring city Sabha, and Kufra to the east.

A massive illicit trade in weapons, petrol and food goods moves south across porous desert borders in return for drugs, alcohol and people moving north.  On 16th September the Libya Herald reported that Algerian police had intercepted a group of gun runners from Libya. They were attempting to smuggle 8 machine guns, 24 automatic rifles and 14,000 rounds of ammunition stolen from Libyan military arms dumps.

The cities are also staging posts for migrants who mainly come from Chad, Niger, Mali, Nigeria, Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia.  Some choose Libya as a final work destination but most hope to embark on the final journey north to the coast and across the Mediterranean to Europe.

A recent eyewitness report from Sabah gives us a glimpse of the modern trans-Saharan migrant route; “More than 1,300 illegal immigrants are detained here, some 100 kilometres outside the city of Sabha, along the road between the sand dunes to the south and the border with Niger. They have no shelter, not even makeshift tents, forced to sleep on the sandy, pebble-studded ground. Only the lucky few among them have a blanket to protect them from the gusts of scorching wind. The others curl up so they can shield their faces in their keffiyehs or T-shirts. It is early evening, and the temperature in this southern Libyan desert known for its scorpions and vipers is 35° Celsius (95° Fahrenheit)”.  (Lucy Matieu in Le Temps dated 2012-07-06 22)

The most dangerous leg of the migrant’s journey is by boat across the Mediterranean from Libya. Malta is a preferred entry point to Europe for these latterday boat people. According to FRONTEX WATCH MALTA,  known Illegal migrant landings in 2012 (up to 16th August) were 1621, of which 1162 were male, 412 female,25 were children, 8 were babies. There were 13 deaths. Malta covers just over 316 km2 in land area. It is one of the world’s smallest states and also one of the most densely populated. (1036.8/km2)

The Times of Malta dated 27th May 2012 carried this report; “A group of 52 migrants arrived at Xrobb l-Ghagin this afternoon, raising the number of arrivals today to 188. The latest arrivals include thee women. They arrived on a dinghy which managed to reach the shore. This morning, a group of 136 illegal immigrants was brought to Malta on a patrol boat. The 86 men, 43 women and 7 children were picked up from a drifting dinghy some 72 miles south of Malta after their boat was deemed to be in distress. Among the migrants was a new-born, while another baby was born as a patrol boat was bringing the migrants to Malta.”

It is worth making one final point. A recent report by Al Jazeera contained this disturbing remark; “The European Union and United States should be concerned, warned Ibrahim Ali Abu Sharia, a Sabha University professor. There is a massive illegal trade – including slaves. I saw a Sabha farmer sell 20 Somali women recently. You can buy one African man for 500 Libyan Dinar [$394].” (Rebecca Murray Al Jazeera 22nd July 2102).

We learn little from history. The British explorer G.F. Lyon made these observations about trans-Saharan salve trafficking whilst in Muzurq in the early 19th Century. “Many of the [slave] children were carried [on camels] in leather bags, which the Tibboo [Tebu] make use of to keep their corn in; and in one instance I saw a nest of children on one side of a camel, and its young one in a bag, hanging on the other………. Five Wajunga men, fierce, well made, handsome people, about 25 years of age, were linked together. The right hand is fastened to the neck, round which is an iron collar, having two rings in the back; through this the heavy chain is passed and locked at each end on the unhappy slaves. The owner sleeps with this chain tied to his wrist, when in fear of their escaping. I was informed by their masters, that these men had been so confined during three months.”

Updated 7th October 2012

On Saturday 6th October a meeting in Malta of the ‘5+5 Group’ which comprises Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Mauretania, Portugal, Spain, France, Italy and Malta concluded with an agreement to set up a humanitarian task-force to combat illegal immigration across the Mediterranean from sub-Saharan Africa and the Maghreb states to Europe. (Libya Herald and Times of Malta)

Update 11th October 2012

The following is part of a new report issued by the ‘International Federation for Human Rights, Migreurop’ and ‘Justice without borders for migrants (JWBM)’, based on an investigation in Libya in June 2012, during which the delegation interviewed hundreds of migrants held in 8 detention centres in Tripoli, Benghazi and the Nafusa Mountain region.

……………Yet in today’s Libya, migrants, asylum seekers and refugees find themselves hounded by groups of former rebels (Qatibas), acting outside any legal framework in a context of deep-rooted racism, who have assigned themselves the task of “ridding the country of migrants who bring crime and disease”. Migrants are arrested at checkpoints and in their homes and taken to improvised detention centres, run by Katibas, where they are held for indefinite periods in airless and insalubrious cells, suffering physical and psychological abuse at the hands of the guards. They have no idea whether and when they may regain their freedom………..

……….as the situation in Libya stabilises, the country will once again rely on migrant workers to rebuild and develop its economy. Foreign companies, many of them European, will resume their investments in Libya and the country will become a hub of intra-African migration. The EU must contribute to this mobility with ambition and responsibility, including by developing a more flexible visa policy and by not forcing Libya to readmit non-nationals…………

Read the full letter in Libya Herald http://www.libyaherald.com/?p=15892

Update 25th October 2012

More migrants rescued…………read http://www.libyaherald.com/2012/10/24/16807/

and more arms smuggled……readhttp://www.libyaherald.com/2012/10/24/smuggled-libyan-arms-seized-in-mersa-matruh/

Update 5th November 2012.

More migrants rescued – some dead:

http://www.libyaherald.com/2012/11/05/ten-europe-bound-migrants-perish-off-libyan-coast/

Update 18th December 2012
The Libyan Herald carried this report datelined 17th December 2012. The appointment of a military governor and the declaration of a military zone in the south is a hopeful sign.

“Tripoli, 17 December: The General National Congress (GNC) declared the south a closed military zone on Sunday evening and announced that it would temporarily close the borders with Niger, Chad, Sudan and Algeria, state news agency LANA reported.

GNC members passed the exceptional legislation with a majority of 136, designating the areas around Ghadamis, Ghat, Awbari, Al-Shati, Sebha, Murzuq and Kufra as closed zones of military operations.

Members also voted to close Libya’s southern borders, but said that they would reopen them at an undesignated time in coordination with their neighbouring states.

According to the legislation, the Ministry of Defence must appoint a military governor for the south, who will be given full powers to arrest those currently wanted for crimes in the area.”
Also read this:
http://www.aljazeera.com/news/africa/2012/12/20121216201619436647.html

Update 28th December 2912
This is an excellent survey in the Libya Herald:
http://www.libyaherald.com/2012/12/23/libyas-south-migrants-journeys/

Updated 3rd February 2013

The illegal immigrant centre in Benghazi attacked. Some details of the treatment of inmates who test HIV positive;
http://www.libyaherald.com/2013/02/03/benghazi-detention-centre-attacked/

Update 24th June 2013

There has been some talk of floods of migrants moving across Libya’s Sothern borders attempting to reach the Mediterranean coast and eventually Europe. The Libyan PM and a group of ministers have returned from Kufra in the south east and Ghat in the south west. They argue that there is a trickle of migrants – tens not thousands -and they have put measures in place to stem the flow.

http://www.libyaherald.com/2013/06/23/illegal-emigrant-figures-exaggerated-zeidan/

However, it seems that some migrants are getting through and that there are still people traffickers operating in Kufra:
http://www.sudantribune.com/spip.php?article46800

Update 9th July 2013

It seems that there are still desperate people making the hazardous crossing from Libya to Malta and Italy. Some who die on route are thrown overboard!
http://www.libyaherald.com/2013/07/09/a-birth-and-three-deaths-on-stranded-migrant-dinghy/

Update 13th July 2013

The statement made by the Libyan Prime Minister that there were but 10s not 1,000s of migrants crossing into Libya seems to be refuted by this report about Malta’s attempt to fly boat people back to Libya.

http://www.libyaherald.com/2013/07/12/malta-bins-plans-to-fly-arriving-migrants-straight-back-to-libya/

http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20130710/local/202-more-migrants-heading-for-malta.477411

http://www.unhcr.org/51d6b8a56.html

Update 8th August 2013

More illegal migrants are drowned as the tragedy of people trafficking across the Mediterranean from Libya continues:

http://www.aljazeera.com/news/europe/2013/08/20138813638173281.html

Update 27th August 2013
This report that foreign troops have crossed Libya’s southern border somewhere may prove interesting;

tp://www.libyaherald.com/2013/08/27/no-foreign-troops-traversing-libyan-borders-zeidan/

Update 30 November 2013

This report and video from Al Jazeera brings the story up to date dramatically:
http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/aljazeeraworld/2013/11/dangerous-waters-20131118121229693854.html

Updated 2nd February 2014

Essential reading…..
http://www.usip.org/publications/illicit-trafficking-and-libya-s-transition-profits-and-losses

Update 21st March 2014

The dreadful sea journey from Libya to Malta and Italy is still taking its toll;

http://www.aawsat.net/2014/03/article55330299

Update 20th February 2017

It is clear from this piece in Britain’s Guardian newspaper that people trafficking is brutal and cruel.

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/feb/20/migrant-slave-trade-libya-europe

 

 

 

John Oakes

LIBYA – GADDAFI’S AFRICAN LEGACY AND NIGERIA (UPDATED 2ND AUGUST 2013)

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Western intervention, ostensibly to help the citizens of Benghazi who had mounted the ‘17th February 2011’ rebellion against Muammar Gaddafi, soon turned into an exercise in regime change which crucially upset Vladimir Putin and influenced his response to the Syrian crisis.
Libya has since held its first peaceful and successful elections for sixty years. The elections were as nearly democratic as might be expected in country so long without a civic society but the problems facing the new government are manifold and difficult. The presence of powerful armed militias, the imprisonment and alleged torture of black African workers from Mali, Niger and other sub-Saharan countries, the cessationist movements in eastern Libya and the damaging rumours of corruption together threaten the emergence of a strong central democratic government.
One effect of the massive military intervention by the western nations (and Qatar) was the near destruction of the Libyan Army leaving no force able to control or absorb the proliferating militias. Realists now recognise that the destruction of the Iraqi army and civil service after the removal of Saddam Hussein resulted in serious loss of lives and civic disorder. The dangers of similar period of havoc in Libya cannot be dismissed easily.

The effect of Gadaffi’s demise on Mali, Niger, Chad and Burkina Faso draws little attention from the mainstream press. It should not be thus. Hidden amongst these impoverished and divided countries lie problems for oil rich Nigeria, a country struggling to reconcile its more populous Muslim north with its oil rich Christian south. There is growing unease, notably in the USA, about the current state of affairs in Nigeria, a country which some pundits are saying is ripe for Balkanisation.
Gaddafi himself, as President of the African Union, called for the division of Nigeria into two states; a Muslim north and a Christian south. Gaddafi was ever simplistic and naive in his meddlesome interventions in the politics of other countries.
The dangers for Nigeria lie in the destabilisation of Mali, already partially accomplished by the al Qaeda franchise Ansar Dine and the potential destabilisation of Niger threatened by a restive Tuareg population strengthened by returning Gaddafi mercenaries. Both these countries have porous borders with Nigeria’s impoverished and restive north in which a further al Qaeda franchise, Boko Haram, has established a foothold. It is exploiting the endemic unrest, harsh military rule and police corruption.
‘Boko Haram’ is the local name for the ‘People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad’ (Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati Wal-Jihad). It is led by Abubakar Muhammad Shekau and said to number 3,000 fighters. It is based in north east Nigeria conveniently close to the Niger and Mali borders and where people feel ignored by the predominantly Christian government led by Goodluck Jonathan.
As Professor Jean Herskovits wrote in the New York Times on 12th January 2012 ‘……..Meanwhile, Boko Haram has evolved into a franchise that includes criminal groups claiming its identity. Revealingly, Nigeria’s State Security Services issued a statement on Nov. 30 [2011], identifying members of four “criminal syndicates” that send threatening text messages in the name of Boko Haram. Southern Nigerians — not northern Muslims — ran three of these four syndicates, including the one that led the American Embassy and other foreign missions to issue warnings that emptied Abuja’s high-end hotels. And last week, the security services arrested a Christian southerner wearing northern Muslim garb as he set fire to a church in the Niger Delta. In Nigeria, religious terrorism is not always what it seems…………’
This volatile situation has been further intensified by the arrival of arms in Nigeria, looted from Gaddafi’s extensive armouries in the aftermath of his demise. Nigeria’s Minister of State for defence, Mrs Olasula Obada, speaking in Abuja, said recently ‘Today in Nigeria, we are at peace with our neighbours and do not face any external threats…..However, we are aware that since the end of the Libyan war, some weapons made their way down south and [into] Nigeria. Nevertheless, today in Nigeria, we do face serious internal threats, but we do hope that the threats will be reduced to the barest minimum.”
The United Sates is becoming interested. Ambassador Johnnie Carson, the US Assistant Secretary on African Issues has stated; “Over the past year, Boko Haram has created widespread insecurity across northern Nigeria, inflamed tensions between various communities, disrupted development activities, and frightened off investors. The near daily spate of bombings and attacks that have claimed the lives of thousands of Nigerians is unacceptable, and the United States strongly condemns this violence”
We should note that Ansar Dine in Mali has been ‘absorbed by AQIM (al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb). This is possibly one of the richest al Qaeda franchises having profited greatly from kidnapping, smuggling and other illegal activities. The core members of Boko Haram were trained by AQIM.
A pessimistic view, and one which is becoming increasingly common amongst observes, is that an absorption of Ansar Dine in Mali and Boko Haram in north eastern Nigeria by AQIM might create a new focus for al Qaeda operations and their attendant lawlessness in the bad lands south of Algeria and Libya with the dangerous destabilisation of Nigeria as one of its consequences.
Strangely the ‘Gaddafist’ blog ‘Libya360’ appears to suggest that Boko Haram is a child of the CIA and the US Africa Command (AFRICOM); an interpretation which illustrates the strange twists and turns matters are now taking in sub-Saharan Africa.

Update 1st November 2012

See Amnesty International’s report;http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/AFR44/043/2012/en/04ab8b67-8969-4c86-bdea-0f82059dff28/afr440432012en.pdf

Update 11th February 2013

Reports of Boko Haram terrorists training in Mali

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/mali/9860822/Timbuktu-al-Qaedas-terrorist-training-academy-in-the-Mali-desert.html

Update 9th March 2013

A disturbing killing of a British captive.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/nigeria/9919656/Nigerian-militants-kill-seven-hostages-including-Briton.html

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/nigeria/9920655/British-hostage-killed-because-kidnappers-thought-UK-was-launching-rescue-mission.html

Update 2nd August 2013

This in al Jazeera today shows that Boko Haram has developed a new strategy in northern Nigeria. It is killing school teachers.

http://www.aljazeera.com/news/africa/2013/08/201381194058468813.html

Update 12th August 2013

A valuable compilation of articles about Boko Haram in the British Guardian newspaper:

http://www.theguardian.com/world/boko-haram

Update 25th August 2013

Further violence is reported in this today. The possible death of Abubakar Shekau between July 25 and Aug. 4 from gunshot wounds inflicted in a gun battle with security forces is raised here also.

http://www.aawsat.net/2013/08/article55314677

Libya and Niger – Locust swarms, Tuareg mercenaries and Saadi Gaddafi.(Updated 22nd January 2013)

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Swarms of the voracious Desert Locust have recently been found in northern Niger. They arrived there from infestations reported in January 2012 in southwest Libya, near the ancient Tuareg city of Ghat.
In a normal year Libya would have been able to control most of the swarms and prevent their movement southwards. However its capacity to monitor and control locusts has collapsed because trained personnel and equipment vanished during the civil war.
The locusts may have moved southwards from one insecure area to another. In northern Mali a Tuareg rebellion, strengthened by returning mercenaries after Gadaffi’s defeat, was hijacked by the militant Islamic group called ‘Ansar Dine’. There is now no local authority there, and certainly no one left with the experience and equipment to control Desert Locust infestations.
Some of the Gadaffi’s Tuareg mercenaries had been recruited from Niger to which they have returned bringing with them large quantities of arms and ammunition. So far Niger has dealt with its potentially rebellious Tuareg population more skilfully than neighbouring Mali; perhaps because the new president, Mahamadou Issoufou, has appointed a Tuareg, Brigi Rafini, as prime minister.
There are further threats to Niger arising out of Libya’s current problems. Prior to the Libyan uprising, the country hosted approximately one million African workers. Many were employed in construction, garbage collection, domestic work and other low-wage jobs. Unskilled Niger workers are no longer remitting part of their wages to their families and are returning home, adding more needy mouths to the already impoverished population.
There is one further disconcerting aspect to this. A number of workers from Niger have been imprisoned by Libyan militias which believe them to have been Gadaffi’s mercenaries. The treatment of some of them is reported to be brutal and the International Organisation for Migration is working to get them released. Until the Libya government is able to assert control over the many armed militias the treatment of these prisoners, and others from Chad and Mali, will continue to cause unease.
Niger is also harbouring Gaddafi’s playboy son, Saadi, who is wanted in Libya to answer number of charges. He is said to have escaped there with the assistance of a colourful and loquacious body-guard from New Zealand who claims to have been trained by the Australian army and who is busy seeking publicity for his exploits in Canada. So far Niger has refused to return Saadi Gadaffi to Libya for trail.
Update 22nd January 2013
The colourful and loquacious body-guard appears to be in a spot of bother in Canada at the moment according to the Libya Herald:
http://www.libyaherald.com/2013/01/22/saadis-smuggler-facing-canadian-deportation/
John oakes (First posted on Gaddafi’s Afrcan Legacy)

Libya and the law of unforeseen consequences (Update 31st January 2013)

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When President Sarkozy and Prime Minister Cameron gave their support to the ‘17th February’ rebellion in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi they may not have paused to think of the consequences, at least in regard to the effect on a number of African states supported by Gaddafi’s largess. What is more the French and British intelligence agencies will now be turning their attention to the changes the Arab Spring has wrought in countries south of the Sahara.
Whilst the fall of Gaddafi was received with wide approval there are some in Africa who may now be lamenting his demise. Amongst them are the residents of the cities of Timbuktu and Gao where the river Niger bends northwards to meet the Sahara. These were the ancient entrepots of the trans-Saharan slave and gold trade in the now troubled West African state of Mali.
Mali is a big, landlocked country much of which is the homeland of the Tuareg, the famous ‘blue men of the desert’ who live their unique nomadic life in the Sahara and whose origin is a mystery and customs warlike.
The Tuareg had been conducting a rebellion against the Mali government of President Amadou Toumani Toure. The Tuareg had also supplied Gaddafi with mercenaries which he armed lavishly with modern weapons. When his regime fell his Tuareg units fled back to Mali with their considerable weaponry and military training. The iron law of unforeseen consequences now made itself felt.
Two events led to further discord. On 22nd March 2012 a military coup by the western trained Mali army deposed President Toure because he was not dealing effectively with the Tuareg rebellion. The military handed over power to a civilian government but were destabilise at a crucial time leaving a power vacuum. The Tuareg rebellion, now stiffened and heavily armed by Gaddafi’s old mercenaries, took advantage and grabbed control of the province of Anzawad, their old homeland, an area in the north of Mali nearly as large as France.
There were others lurking in the background ready to piggyback on the Tuareg rebellion. Amongst them were men of an al Qaeda franchise called Ansar Dine. Its name means “Defenders of the Faith” and its followers embrace a puritanical form of Islam known as Salafism.
Ansar Dine muscled in on the Tuareg separatists and together they declared an independent Islamic state in Northern Mali. However they were uneasy bedfellows. At first Ansar Dine’s turbaned fighters gained a reputation for keeping order after outbreaks of looting. When they started enforcing strict sharia law they earned hostility from locals in Timbuktu and Gao who practised a more tolerant style of Islam.
In June 2012, the Movement for Jihad and Unity in West Africa (MUJAO), another al-Qaeda linked group with Algerian connections, took control of the headquarters of the Tuareg separatists in northern Mali. The Mali government has so far been powerless to act against them and are currently seeking outside assistance.
In a chilling excess of religious fervour not unlike the Taliban who demolished the ancient statue of Buddha on the old Silk Route in Afghanistan, members of Ansar Dine have begun to destroy the holy shrines of Sufi saints in Timbuktu.
Apart from its historic role in the trans-Saharan trade, Timbuktu was a centre for the propagation of Islam throughout Africa in the 15th and 16th centuries. There are disturbing reports that the Ansar Dine fanatics are destroying, amongst other historical shrines, the 17 metre high Tomb of Askia which was built by the Emperor of Songhai in 1495. The International Criminal Court is calling the attacks on Timbuktu’s holy sites a war crime.
The wider context is important. The conflict in Somalia has been a magnet for British jihadists. They join al Shabaab, Somalia’s principle al Qaeda franchise led by Ahmed Abdi Godane. It is estimated that fifty or so Britain’s have joined them recently. Should they return they will pose a disproportionate threat to the home security services.
The developments in Mali offer jihadists a new home. Its long borders with Algeria make it a threat to France in particular but it will also focus our own intelligence services on a new region in the future.
Update 28th January 2013
As French forces liberate Timbuktu rebels destroy the precious library.
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/mali/9832061/Mali-French-troops-encircle-Timbuktu-as-fleeing-Islamists-burn-ancient-scrolls.html
Update 31st January 2013
Prime Minister Cameron visits Tripoli.
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/defence/9840355/David-Cameron-ducks-question-of-defence-cuts-during-Tripoli-visit.html

Written by johnoakes

July 8, 2012 at 9:47 am