Photo Credit: AP
Sahara Region Rife with Instability
Similar to Mauritania is Mali’s eastern neighbor Niger. Ethnic Tuareg rebels have been fighting the central government in Niamey for years, and the terrorist group Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb has been active in the country since 2008.
On top of that come internal power struggles. In 2010, the military staged a coup ousting President Mamadou Tandja. Largely free elections restored civilian rule in 2011, although parts of the country remain out of the government’s control. The US think tank Fund for Peace has repeatedly ranked Niger among the world worst failed states.
The security situation in Libya has visibly worsened since the beginning of the uprising against dictator Moammar Gadhafi nearly two years ago. The military has been essentially dissolved and weapons from Gadhafi’s armed forces have flooded the markets in the region, ending up in the hands of various militias, including the extremists in northern Mali. Fifteen months after Gadhafi’s death, a stable and sustainable government has yet to take hold. Real control over the country rests with competing warlords, and Islamist groups in the region have profitted.
The blood bath at the oil field shows that Algeria has been the most impacted by the developments in Mali. For this reason, Algiers has long opposed French military intervention in its southern neighbor. Algeria itself is still suffering the consequences of its civil war in the 1990s, in which fighting between the military and Islamists killed hundreds of thousands of people.
The military is still the most powerful force in the country, however it has still proved incapable of securing the 1,400-kilometer border with Mali. Regular attacks on Algerian soldiers in the south show the strength of the Islamists.
Photo Credit: Spiegel Online
Plethora of Islamist Groups Active in Region
A variety of militias are active in the expansive desert region stretching from Mauritania to Niger. Many form strategic alliances, while at the same time competing for power and control over human trafficking and the smuggling of drugs and cigarettes.
The most notorious of these groups is Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb. It emerged six years ago from a rebranding of the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat. In contrast to the Al-Qaida offshoots in Afghanistan, Iraq or the Arabian Peninsula, AQIM has long almost entirely refrained from attacking targets in the West.
Instead, the organization, which is said to have almost 1,000 members, has concentrated on kidnapping Western nationals and holding them for ransom to fill their coffers. Also in contrast to other Al-Qaida affiliates, AQIM has held off on trying to impose its Salafist ideology on native populations, thereby winning over their support.
An AQIM splinter group is the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MOJWA). The catalyst for the split was reportedly a power struggle between the Algerian-dominated AQIM leadership and fighters from Mauritania and other countries. In November 2011, the group kidnapped a group of Western aid workers from a refugee camp in Algeria. The hostages were freed in July 2012 for a ransom of $18 million (€13.5 million). Northern Mali has since become the most important region for the MOJWA, controlling large parts of the region.
Spiegel has the full article