Mali’s Islamist conflict spreads as new militant group emerges

Imam Elhadji Sekou Ba was one of the few people in his village of Barkerou who dared to speak out against the rise of Islamist militants in central Mali, denouncing in his sermons the young men taking up arms in the name of religion. Last Thursday, shortly after dinner, he was gunned down on his doorstep. Locals suspect the killing was carried out by the Massina Liberation Front (MLF), a new group blamed for a wave of attacks that is shifting Mali’s three-year-old Islamist conflict from the remote desert north ever closer to its populous south. The emergence of the new group, recruiting among central Mali’s marginalised Fulani ethnic minority, has sown panic among residents, forced some officials to flee, and undermined the efforts of a 10 000-strong UN peacekeeping mission to stabilise the West African state. Inspired by veteran jihadist Amadou Koufa, a radical preacher from the central Malian town of Mopti, the MLF has introduced a volatile new ethnic element to the Islamist conflict in a nation riddled with tribal tensions. Security experts fear that the rise of a jihadist group among the Fulani, whose 20-million members are spread across West and Central Africa, could regionalise the violence. “The risk is that links develop between Fulanis throughout the region and it could be the next major regional conflict,” said Aurelien Tobie, a conflict adviser formerly based in the Malian capital Bamako. “Everywhere Fulanis are marginalised, they have a strong identity and there are connections between them.” The assassination was the latest in a wave of killings in the Mopti region targetting those opposed to Mali’s array of Islamist groups. Many of the militants come from the ranks of jihadist fighters that seized the northern two-thirds of Mali in 2012 alongside Tuareg rebels. A French-led military intervention in early 2013 scattered the insurgents, after Paris said the Islamist enclave could become a launchpad for terror attacks on Europe. Some militants have since gone to Mali’s centre belt to regroup and recruit, using it as a staging post to strike at areas in the south once considered safe During the Islamist occupation of northern Mali, Mopti was the last bastion of government power before the lawless desert. That image was destroyed this month when armed men attacked a hotel in nearby Sevare and killed at least 12 people, including five United Nations contractors. One of the attackers wore an explosive belt that did not detonate, in the first suicide attempt outside the north. The army blames the MLF for the siege and at least two other attacks in Mali’s centre and south which are hindering attempts by the government and the UN peacekeeping force to restore order. The Sevare attack has also been claimed by a group led by veteran Algerian jihadist Mokhtar Belmokhtar, which has rebranded itself as Al Qaeda in West Africa. Experts say the claims are not mutually exclusive and there are fluid relations between Mali’s Islamist cells. “The strategy of those loyal to Koufa appears to be to empty the region of administrative leaders, government officials and others collaborating with the army to both establish their authority and, perhaps, recruit more easily,” said Corinne Dufka, West Africa Director at Human Rights Watch. ISLAMIC EMPIRE To achieve this, Dufka said, the Islamists are employing tactics of intimidation and targeted killings. She documented five summary executions of people accused of collaborating with the army this year. A resident said several other village leaders had fled to Bamako, fearing reprisals. Military sources say MLF is formed partly from local fighters who went north to fight three years ago but then returned to Mopti as French military pressure increased. Its leaders have been able to exploit local grievances among the locally dominant, semi-nomadic Fulani population to swell their ranks. Some Fulani, who represent 9% of Mali’s population, have obtained weapons from long-established militias set up to protect grazing lands. Similar Fulani militia exist across much of the arid Sahel belt stretching across west to east across Africa, from Senegal to Sudan. The MLF is believed to be closely allied with Malian Islamist rebel group Ansar Dine, whose leader Iyad Ag Ghali fought alongside Koufa during the northern occupation. Ansar Dine also has a group of fighters called the Massina brigade – a reference to the 19th century Fulani empire of Massina – and has claimed a series of attacks against UN peacekeepers and Malian army targets in Bamako and the border areas near Ivory Coast and Mauritania. Andrew Lebovich, visiting fellow with the European Council on Foreign Relations, says Mopti is an appealing area for radical groups’ expansion because of its historical importance as a centre for Islamic governance. Koufa’s speeches evoke the jihad led by Fulanis against the rival Bambara ethnic group to create the vast Massina Empire which spread across Mali, Senegal and Nigeria. Its capital Hamdallaye, near present day Mopti, now lies in ruins. Residents say there are few outwards signs of support for Koufa, whose whereabouts are unknown, although one local said cassettes of his sermons sell well in the market. Dufka says support for radical groups has been stirred by the army’s summary executions army of Fulanis accused of being jihadists. A UN human rights report documented signs of dried blood on the side of wells in Sevare in 2013. Mali never investigated the killings. FULANI REBELLION? Mali’s former defence minister, Soumeylou Boubeye Maiga, said the army was struggling to contain the rapid emergence of the militants. The government needed to improve intelligence gathering in the region and check on mosques. Aba Ibrahim Ba, a Fulani mayor from the commune where the imam was assasinated, said the government had done little to respond to the recent assassinations and the local population was in panic. He said he had been forced into hiding. “Besides reaching people by word of mouth, I cannot do anything else to stop this as it would be too risky,” he said. Reprisals seen to be targeting the Fulani community could play into the hands of extremists. Guillaume Ngefa, director of human rights in the UN mission MINUSMA, said at least 50 people had been arrested with alleged ties to MLF since December. This prompted complaints from a Fulani organisation that they were being targeted indiscriminately, he added. Alghabass Ag Intalla, a senior member of the Tuareg-led rebel coalition Coordination of Azawad Movements (CMA) and a former leader of Ansar Dine, said there was reason to fear the radicalisation of some Fulanis. “We see Fulanis as very marginalised in Mali, even from their own leaders,” he told Reuters. “They are forming a rebellion.”

Edited by Reuters

Find this story at 19 August 2015

Copyright http://www.polity.org.za/

Mali rebels doubtful over new peace deal

Despite treaty, Tuareg and Arab rebels say that while they are denied territorial separation, the war will continue.

Mali, Foyta – Hammy Ag Ehya was a veteran soldier in the Malian army. But now he’s a rebel fighter who says he regrets only the 20 years he wasted defending Mali.

Around a campfire in the wilderness and while a lamb is being prepared for roasting, Ag Ehya and a few dozen of his comrades make sure they display their readiness for war in front of our camera.

Their leaders have just agreed on a new deal with the government, which is supposed to end the conflict.

But Ag Ehya and his co-fighters don’t seem to care about that process.

“Whoever talks of guarantees for ending the conflict only talks nonsense,” Ag Ehya says.

“That’s a big lie. This war cannot be ended with a stroke of a pen. As long as we’re denied territorial separation there will be no end to the war.”

In a few minutes, nearly two dozen army Toyota lorries drive into the makeshift base in northern Mali near the border with Mauritania.

They are fully loaded with fighters with light and heavy guns and rocket launchers.

‘Fight for independence’

Ag Ehya’s elder brother Himmety, who served even longer in the Malian army, stands beside him with a khaki turban around his neck toting an old Kalashnikov.

Tuareg and Arab rebels are in control of the major town of Kidal as well as large areas of northern Mali, also known as Azawad [Al Jazeera]
I ask if he thinks the agreement marks the end of the conflict.

It’s not Mali that gave us the weapons. We paid for them with our own blood. Now Mali wants to take them from us a second time. But its behavior during the previous experience is the cause of our rejection now.

“In fact this is the real beginning!” he says.

“Now we can start to take security matters in Azawad into our own hands. Then we will start the next phase, the fight for independence.”

Tuareg and Arab rebels are in control of the major town of Kidal as well as large areas of northern Mali, also known as Azawad.
Recently, they made new territorial gains, pushing the army further south.

The rebels announced an independent state in northern Mali in 2012. But under the present agreement, they get only a type of decentralised local administration.

The positive point Himmety referred to was that the agreement has given the rebels a share in the keeping of security in the north.

But on the other hand it implies an eventual integration into the official state apparatus and an eventual disarmament.

This is a prospect that provokes anger and uncertainty among the rebels.

“As long as there’s no separation there will be no disarmament,” the younger brother vehemently declares.

“It’s not Mali that gave us the weapons. We paid for them with our own blood. Now Mali wants to take them from us a second time. But its behaviour during the previous experience is the cause of our rejection now.”

The rebels say they agreed to disarm in the past after the peace treaty of 1993 and 1994, but instead of gaining their rights the army began to kill them.

Several peace agreements in the past have failed. This is why the people of the north are lukewarm about the prospects of success for the new agreement.

On June 15, several movement leaders held a rally at the Mbera camp for Malian refugees in south east Mauritania. But their efforts to sell the agreement to the people were rejected.

These are the same leaders who announced what they called the Independent Republic of Azawad three years ago.

Several months later in Burkina Faso, they signed a deal waiving their claim of independence in favour of limited self-rule.

Climate change, food shortages, and conflict in Mali

However, Mali’s government has failed to even discuss the self-rule demand.
The new treaty will allow only:

• The right to form local institutions in the north.
• More parliamentary representation for the north in Bamako.
• A role in the region’s security for armed movements.
• More economic and social development in the area.

The rebels’ demands that the government spend 40 percent of the national budget on development in the north has been rejected.

Painful concessions

In the face of such perceivably painful concessions, the rebel leaders have resorted to a rhetoric based on realpolitik.

“We think this is the most we can get at the moment in view of the current context and of the world community level of readiness to accept our demands as we put them” Redhwan Mohamed Ali, the deputy president of the rebel coalition Supreme Council for Azawad tells me.

Mali violence driving refugees into Mauritania
“So I think this is what’s available for us now.”But grass-root northern Malians have a different opinion.

“This document does not respond to our demands and those of our leaders,” says a young refugee.

“If they want a final solution they should separate us from Mali. Let us remain here in our drought-stricken Azawad and let them enjoy their green Mali. We don’t want Mali and we don’t want any reconciliation with it.”

A leading female social activist in the camp says: “It’s clear that we have been forced to sign this agreement. Indeed, we don’t see any single point in it that serves our interests.”

At the refugee camp which was first created a quarter of a century ago, there was a general feeling of deja vu.

How many agreements like this have been made in the past and how many of them have no sooner been signed than violated?

The people here tell me they have all lost count. But they know that the present agreement is not going to be different.

Source: Al Jazeera
17 Jun 2015 14:04 GMT | War & Conflict, Africa, Mali, Mauritania
Mohamed Vall

Find this story at 17 June 2015

Copyright http://www.aljazeera.com

The Iranian-Saudi Proxy Wars Come to Mali (2015)

The Iranian-Saudi Proxy Wars Come to Mali
In schools, mosques, and cultural centers, Shiites and Sunnis are battling for African hearts and minds.

BAMAKO, Mali — In a country where two-thirds of the adults are illiterate, it is a privileged few who have the chance to study at the Mustafa International School.

Located in the western suburbs of Bamako, a few blocks from the U.S. Embassy, the college-level seminary has just 180 students — 150 men and 30 women. They engage in an intensive curriculum that encompasses theology, history, philosophy, Arabic, Farsi, and world religions. They work in the school’s computer suite, equipped with 12 desktop computers, and get three meals a day at the seminary’s expense. And they do it all under the watchful eyes of the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, former supreme leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, whose likeness gazes down on them from his portrait, which hangs above the bookshelves of the school’s library.

These young students are part of Mali’s tiny Shiite community: a group of about 10,000 families nationally, in a country where the Sunni majority makes up an estimated 95 percent of the population of 15 million.

They’re also the stuff of Saudi nightmares.

Historically, West Africa has had a tolerant approach to religious differences, shunning — at least until recently — the sort of Sunni-Shiite sectarian rivalries that have plagued the Middle East in favor of a patchwork of beliefs that incorporate Sufism, Maliki Islam, and traditional animist practices. But Mali — home to seminaries with ties to Iran, like the Mustafa International School, and where diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks this summer reveal that Saudi Arabia is scrambling to fund its own competing schools, mosques, and cultural projects — provides a case study in how the enmity between Sunni Islam and Shiite Islam may be being spread, via Iranian and Saudi proxies, to places thousands of miles from the Middle East.

Unlike most of Mali’s private schools and universities, which charge hefty fees, the Mustafa International School selects students from outside the capital and gives them free room and board. Few of the students hail from Mali’s elite families; rather, they are selected via tests administered to Shiite youth across the country. The highest achievers are offered the chance to continue their study in Iran.

The school is able to afford such generous support for its students because it is backed by an Iranian university in Qom, a city considered holy by Shiite Muslims and famed for its Islamic learning. The state-run University of Qom provides funding and sets the school’s curriculum, which covers various schools of Islamic thought, as well as Shiite jurisprudence.

“The teaching is very good,” said Adam N’Diaye, a 22-year-old student at the facility who recently converted from Sunnism. He aims to become a teacher when he graduates. A quick survey of his classmates revealed that most of his colleagues are aiming to become imams and missionaries.

It’s unclear how many schools and seminaries in Mali have ties to the Islamic Republic or just how close these ties are. There’s also no direct evidence to indicate that schools like the Mustafa International School are necessarily part of a larger effort by the Iranian government to make Shiite converts. Officials at the Iranian Cultural Center in Bamako declined to give any details about the number of educational institutions to which they have ties; the Saudi-based paper Al Yaum has previously reported that the cultural center runs 10 schools in Mali. Other sources place the number around 13.

Iran and Mali have a warm, if limited, relationship. When Iran’s then-president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, visited Bamako and Timbuktu in 2010, he spoke in glowing terms about solidarity between the two countries and signed a raft of agreements on development aid and Iranian investment in agriculture and extractive industries. The Mustafa International School’s director, Mohamed Diabaté, who studied in Iran and maintains links with clerics there, makes appearances on Malian television to talk about his understanding of Islam. (He argues that the Tidjaniya school of Sufism common across West Africa has roots in Shiite, rather than Sunni, teaching.)

The presence of Shiism here isn’t something Saudi Arabia is taking lightly. Among the nearly 60,000 diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks on June 19 are a slew of documents detailing the kingdom’s fear of a “rising tide of Shiism” resulting from proselytization on the part of Saudi Arabia’s rival in the Middle East, Iran. Cables detailing specific Iranian charities, schools, and media outlets from Kazakhstan to Spain — as well as vague fears of “Shiite activities” elsewhere — show that Saudi diplomats see Shiism not only to be a vile heresy, but a movement inseparably tied to Iranian political clout. And even the smallest Shiite community is considered a threat.

“Despite the Iranian Embassy’s efforts [in Mali], there hasn’t been a lot of uptake, but it is possible that their thinking could spread in the future in a broader way and their Shiite activities could gain a base,” reads a cable from the Saudi Embassy in Bamako to the Foreign Ministry in Riyadh in early 2009. It recommends funding rival projects — mosques, schools, cultural programs, proselytization, and summer courses — to “strengthen the growing position of the [Saudi] kingdom” in Mali and promote Saudi Arabia’s image as “the protector of the noble Islamic faith.” It adds that this should be done “in a way that promotes peaceful coexistence between different ideologies and counters the Shiite spread.”

Mali offers a potentially rich source of converts to Shiism. “People in Mali love the family of the Prophet,” Diabaté said. The Tidjaniya Sufi order, which has a long history throughout West Africa, honors members of the Prophet Mohammed’s family as pure, devout individuals. It’s a small leap from that to the belief, fundamental to Shiism, that members of the Prophet’s family should have taken over leadership of the Islamic community upon his death. It’s a link that has not gone unnoticed in Riyadh.

“Iran is exploiting the Sufis’ love for the family of the Prophet in order to show Iran as a great Islamic nation that is an enemy of the infidels and supports all the Muslims,” reads the cable.

“Many Malians don’t realize the truth of Shiite thinking: fanatical, racist, and the enemy of other Islamic doctrines.”
But though the cables ring of paranoia, the notion that Mali’s tiny Shiite community has outsized political significance and links to Tehran seems to have found traction among some Sunni locals.

“There are not even 1 percent of the population who are Shiite in Mali. But there is a political presence, run by the Iranians,” said Mahmoud Dicko, the president of the High Islamic Council of Mali and one of the country’s most powerful clerics.

Dicko was among 30 senior Malian clerics who signed a 2008 open letter in support of influential Egyptian Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi’s outspoken stance against Shiite evangelism. The letter warned of “the dangers of the rising tide of Shiism,” which aims to “turn Sunni societies Shiite, undermine their states, and impose Persian hegemony over them.”

Mali has raw memories of religious conflict. In 2012, an alliance of Tuareg separatists and Islamists linked to al Qaeda invaded the country’s northern half and imposed sharia law before being ousted by French forces. But a low-level insurgency has been rumbling on ever since. Militants have targeted the Malian army, U.N. peacekeepers, and foreign aid workers with drive-by shootings and roadside bombs. The extremist group Ansar Dine claimed responsibility for a deadly attack on a popular restaurant in Bamako in March and the killing of three soldiers in a village near the border with Mauritania in June.

Despite this, for most Malians the phenomenon of religious extremism is a foreign imposition. The fighters involved in the events of 2012 were from outside Mali, and the violence was an exception in a long history of religious tolerance here. Across West Africa, Sunni Islam, Sufism, and traditional animist practices have rubbed shoulders in relative peace for centuries.

One of Mali’s most prominent Baptists, Pastor Mohammed Yattara, is open about his apostasy, something that would be unthinkable across the Middle East and North Africa. Yattara converted from Islam to Christianity when he was 16. When he told his family he had become a Christian, his father disowned him and threw him out of the house. Yet the two stayed in touch until his father’s death, and Yattara’s act of leaving his faith has had few consequences for his personal security.

Among the Muslim majority, Sufi traditions and animist rituals remain important elements of religious practice. In poorer communities, few imams speak Arabic or are educated in the finer points of Islamic philosophy. Some fear that by funding schools, mosques, and much-needed infrastructure, foreign powers are creating divisions that once did not exist in this country, on the periphery of the Arab world.

Many in Dicko’s camp see institutions such as the Mustafa International School and the Iranian Cultural Center as a vehicle for Iranian political influence — an accusation Diabaté refuted, despite pictures of Khomeini in the school office, in the library, and on the back of his car.

“We will not accept the politicization of Islam,” he said. But he admitted that Shiites in Mali look to Iran for support in the face of Salafism. “Every state that represents a sect needs to protect its flock.”

Diabaté, sitting in a small office adjacent to the prayer hall and wearing the long brown robe and white turban of a Shiite scholar, explained how he “used to hate Shiites.” But in the late 1980s, he became part of a group of young scholars who participated in debates with Hassan Hambraze, then Iran’s chargé d’affaires in Bamako and son of a prominent Iranian cleric. In 1988, Hambraze was also responsible for sending a group of Malian students to the first Shiite school in West Africa. Diabaté converted and went on to study in Iran. On his return he became a prominent leader within Mali’s nascent Shiite community.

Today, he speaks of the country’s more hard-line Sunni leaders in conspiratorial terms: “The Salafi thinking is well known. They want to get into power and are planning for that. They plan to take control of the Islamic community.” After a pause, he added: “But we are not staying still. Everyone has their methods.”

Those methods seem clear: to proselytize and offer converts access to a good education and opportunities to travel and work in Iran. The Saudi strategy in Mali is more opaque (widespread rumors among Malians include tales of enormous checks coming from the Gulf to fund prominent Salafists). The diplomatic cables have thrown some light on Saudi activities in the country, which include funding for schools and preacher-training courses run by the Islamic University in Madinah and Imam Muhammad ibn Saud Islamic University in Riyadh.

Mali’s minister for religious affairs, Thierno Diallo, says he recognizes that Malian governments have long turned a blind eye to foreign-backed religious projects. Despite the country’s deeply religious population, Mali’s secular constitution means that the state has kept mosques at arm’s length. And while the government is aware of large sums of money entering Mali from unknown sources, it has few resources to reliably track them.

“It’s not documented,” he said, “and there’s no transparency. That’s a serious problem.”

Neither Iran nor Saudi Arabia has explicitly promoted violence in Mali. Diabaté, along with his Sunni counterparts, makes it clear that “Shiites, like everyone else, know that extremist groups in the north show no mercy.” Yet the creation of previously nonexistent sectarian identities for political ends leads to divisions that become associated with political agendas.

Imam Baba Diallo, another member of the High Islamic Council of Mali, said he wants to organize interfaith dialogue between the different sects but has yet to find funding. He looks grave as he talks about the potential consequences of inaction.

“If we fail [to heal the divide], the next war will be between Sunni and Shiite,” he said.

(This reporting was supported by funding from the International Reporting Project.)

BY PAUL RAYMOND, JACK WATLINGAUGUST 19, 2015

Find this story at 19 August 2015
Copyright http://foreignpolicy.com

Mali: The forgotten war (2014)

France, Mali’s former colonial ruler, is going back to its old colonial ways, writes Kane.

As representatives of the Malian government and various rebel groups meet in Algiers for peace talks, violence in northern Mali continues and so does the French military presence.France launched its military intervention in Mali in January 2013 with the mandate to stop an uprising of various militant groups in the north, threatening the stability and sovereignty of the country. The goal was then to free the northern part of the country from jihadist occupation, bring back peace, and restore Malian sovereignty on the whole territory. Although France’s defence minister announced that the so-called “Operation Serval” had “fulfilled its mission”, Mali is hardly a peaceful place today. As Mali fell into a media blackout, France announced it was reorganising its military presence into “Operation Barkhane”. No

As representatives of the Malian government and various rebel groups meet in Algiers for peace talks, violence in northern Mali continues and so does the French military presence.

France launched its military intervention in Mali in January 2013 with the mandate to stop an uprising of various militant groups in the north, threatening the stability and sovereignty of the country. The goal was then to free the northern part of the country from jihadist occupation, bring back peace, and restore Malian sovereignty on the whole territory. Although France’s defence minister announced that the so-called “Operation Serval” had “fulfilled its mission”, Mali is hardly a peaceful place today.

As Mali fell into a media blackout, France announced it was reorganising its military presence into “Operation Barkhane”. No one seems to be asking why the French are still there, how long they will stay and more importantly – doesn’t their intervention constitute a form of neo-imperialism?

France in Mali

Back in early 2013 many Malians gave an enthusiastic welcome to French soldiers, when they came to “rescue” this crisis-torn West African country. Much has changed since then. In their January 2014 book, La Gloire des Imposteurs, Malian activist Aminata Dramane Traore and Senegalese novelist Boubacar Boris Diop explain this initial enthusiasm for the war with the Malians’ shock and panic in the face of the invaders from the north who were destroying historic monuments, killing and mutilating people.

But as the authors pointed out, Mali might be facing an even bigger threat: the former colonial ruler going back to its old colonial ways on Malian territory. After all, it is just hard to believe that France selflessly sent its soldiers to face danger in a faraway African country for the sake of “saving it”. The question that Malians have to ask themselves is: Do they prefer having to fight against jihadists for a long time, or having their sovereignty challenged, and their territory occupied by an ancient colonialist state or partitioned to satisfy a group allied with the colonial power?

This is not the first time France has gotten involved in its former “colonial territories”. And it is always the same scenario: Some excuse is found in order to deploy on the ground to protect economic interest, occupy strategic points or defend an ally among the local politicians. The story is well known from Djibouti all the way to the Ivory Coast!

In July, France signed a new defence agreement with Mali, which would allow it to maintain a considerable military presence in the country. The agreement’s eleven pages of mostly general statements say that French military troops and civil servants will be allowed to stay in Mali, build military bases, operate, if needed, with Malian troops, etc., for the next five years. The five years term, as written in the document, is renewable.

With this agreement Mali has started to reverse the decolonialisation project of its first president Modibo Keïta, who made sure the last French soldier departed his country in 1961. Keita was a firm nationalist and while almost all the newly independent West African countries at that time signed defence pacts with their former “master”, he only consented to an agreement on economic and cultural cooperation with France. Keita didn’t allow French military bases or troops on Malian soil.

The Malian presidents that followed him also resisted French pressure for a defence agreement. Although Paris demanded repeatedly, three different presidents of Mali – Moussa Traore, Alpha Oumar Konare and Amadou Toumany Toure – refused, despite huge diplomatic and economic pressure. The most France could get in Mali was a 1985 military cooperation accord which allowed France to give military training and technical assistance to Malian troops.

These presidents seemed to be following a doctrine that gave a boost to the Malian people’s self-esteem. However, now it is clear that the “Operation Serval” against the jihadist has given France an unexpected opportunity to achieve an old regional military scheme.

As Senegalese commentator, Babacar Justin Ndiaye – known as one of the most influential analysts on military questions in West Africa – has pointed out: Mali was intentionally weakened to prepare the French military operation “Serval”. “Serval”, which, in turn, has prepared the ground for operation “Barkhane”, announced by the French just as they were wrapping up the previous one in July. This new operation is based from Chad and will cover Mali, Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Niger.

Peace negotiations?

After having defeated the invaders, and chasing them out of Timbuktu and other northern cities, and disarming factions of the rebellions, the French military surprisingly (or not) banned the Malian army from Kidal, the central city of the northern Azawad region. The territory is claimed by different rebel groups, but it is under the de facto control of the MNLA (National Movement for Liberation of the Azawad).

France allowed the rebels to occupy the area, reorganise and later gain a place at the post-war negotiations table. The first round of peace talks supervised by France took place in mid-July in Algiers between Malian authorities and various rebel groups. The Malian government has always rejected negotiating with rebels who call for cessation, yet this time it had to accept the talks.

As is well known, France has openly supported the MNLA for a long time and the MNLA is profusely covered by French media, which presents a sympathetic romanticised image of the rebels. The leaders of the MNLA are frequent visitors to the French capital and quite welcome on French TV, which likes to show people in MNLA-controlled territories amicably accepting French troops.

Although France enjoys considerable sway with the different groups in the peace talks, it is finding it increasingly harder to mediate, as disagreements between the rebel groups continue to arise. During the first round of talks, for example, various groups had to be separated and accommodated in different five star hotels in Algiers to avoid hostility.

The purpose of this latest round of talks is to find a peaceful solution to the crisis in northern Mali. But whether such a solution will be for the best interests of all Malians, is unclear, given that France has not excluded partition – as the Malian government had demanded.

French interests in Sahel

French support for the MNLA is not surprising, at least not geopolitically. France wants Niger protected from the insurgencies sweeping across the Sahel region, and it is ready to support the MNLA, which in return would prevent the expansion of jihadist groups towards the borders of Niger, the world’s fourth largest producer of uranium. Coincidentally or not, France generates more than 75 percent of its electricity through nuclear plants.

Unsurprisingly, Niger is host to France’s biggest economic interest of in the region and therefore its security is a foreign policy priority for the French government. The French corporation Areva mines uranium in Niger and it is currently investing 1.9bn Euros in the development of the large uranium deposits in Imouraren. Protecting the eastern borders of Niger was indeed among the major reasons behind French President François Hollande’s decision to get involved in the conflict in Mali. The May 2013 car bomb attack on one of Areva’s operations must have further convinced him that it was the right thing to do.

Thus it only made sense to wrap up the Mali-focused “Operation Serval” in order to unroll “Operation Barkhane” with a wider geographic scope. The provisions of the new defence agreement forced on the Malian government naturally allow for whatever the French need in order to sustain their new operation in the region.

It should not come as a surprise that France decided on Chad as the centre for the new operation. After all, Chad has a history of hosting French military operations. French military presence in Chad began in 1968, when former president Francois Tombalbaye asked Charles de Gaulle, in the name of the defence pact between his country and France, to intervene with “Operation Bison” against a rebellion in the northern regions of the country. In 1986, the French military intervened again with “Operation Epervier”, this time against Muammar Qaddafi who was invading from the north. The French have never left ever since.

Nowadays, a small number of French soldiers are based at Niamey airport, where a small American military crew launches drones to survey the region, tracking jihadist groups.

Just after “mission accomplished” was announced on “Operation Serval”, Holland took a trip into the region, getting reassuring support from heads of state for his anti-terrorism campaign. The “terrorist threat” is a great opportunity for France to put its hands on West Africa again militarily, politically and, even economically. The US, of course, is in with the French, supporting them and even lending another friendly drone operation from Niger’s capital.

As France is expanding its military control of the region, there are few who are objecting or ringing an alarm bell warning that the colonial “master” has come back.

06 Sep 2014 12:26 GMT | War & Conflict, Politics, US & Canada, Burkina Faso, Chad
Pape Samba Kane is a Senegalese journalist and political analyst.

Find this story at 6 September 2014

Source: Al Jazeera

$0.60 for cake: Al-Qaida records every expense

FILE – In this July 23, 2013 file photo, United Nations peacekeepers stop to greet Malian soldiers at a checkpoint, during a patrol on the outskirts of Timbuktu, Mali. For 10 months until January 2013, the city of Timbuktu was occupied by al-Qaida’s branch in North Africa. When they fled, they left behind thousands of pages of documents, including over 100 receipts, showing that they assiduously tracked their cash flow, down to the $0.60 cents one of them spent for a single light bulb. The accounting system on display suggests that far from being a fly-by-night terror organization, al-Qaida is attempting to behave like a corporation. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell, File)

This receipt for groceries, which includes prices paid for tomatoes, onions, charcoal, meat and a lightbulb, was retrieved from a building occupied by al-Qaida’s North African branch in Timbuktu, Mali. The receipt is one of more than 100 receipts and invoices that show an organization intent on documenting even the most minor expenses. (AP Photo)

This receipt for house-cleaning equipment and labor, air conditioner repairs and security guards, which was retrieved from a building occupied by al-Qaida’s North African branch in Timbuktu, Mali, is one of more than 100 receipts and invoices that show an organization intent on documenting even the most minor expenses. The al-Qaida fighters threw themselves into construction projects, making frequent trips to the hardware store to buy everything from bags of cement, to parts for a new shower, to tubes of superglue. (AP Photo)

FILE – In this July 23, 2013 file photo, French soldiers patrol through the central market in Timbuktu, Mali. A branch of al-Qaida occupied Timbuktu for 10 months, up until January 2013, when France sent soldiers to flush out the extremists. When they fled, they left behind thousands of pages of documents, including over 100 receipts, showing that they assiduously tracked their cash flow, down to the $0.60 one of them spent for a single light bulb. The open-air market pictured here is one of many where the fighters bought supplies, carefully tracking their expenses on a notepad. The accounting system on display suggests that far from being a fly-by-night terror organization, al-Qaida is attempting to behave like a corporation. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell, File)

FILE – In this July 23, 2013 file photo, a French soldier stands guard during a patrol through the central market in Timbuktu, Mali. A branch of al-Qaida occupied Timbuktu for 10 months, up until French soldiers intervened in January 2013. When they fled, they left behind thousands of pages of documents, including over 100 receipts, showing that they assiduously tracked their cash flow, down to the $0.60 one of them spent for a single light bulb. The accounting system on display suggests that far from being a fly-by-night terror organization, al-Qaida is attempting to behave like a corporation. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

This document retrieved from a building occupied by al-Qaida’s North African branch in Timbuktu, Mali, outlines the budget for an Islamic Tribunal, which handed down sentences, including public amputations for theft. Included within this budget are the expenses for members of the tribunal, their guardians and cooks, support staff, transportation and telecommunications. It is one of more than 100 receipts and invoices that show an organization intent on documenting even the most minor expenses. (AP Photo)

ADVANCE FOR USE MONDAY, DEC. 30, 2013 AND THEREAFTER – This document retrieved from a building occupied by al-Qaida’s North African branch in Timbuktu, Mali, is a list of advances for top leaders of al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, including Yahya Abou el-Hammam, the head of operations for al-Qaida in the Sahara Desert. The document is one of more than 100 receipts and invoices that show an organization intent on detailing even the most minor expenses. Several receipts, including this one, show that Ansar Dine, a Malian jihadist group that initially refused to acknowledge ties to al-Qaida, was on al-Qaida’s payroll. (AP Photo)

This document retrieved from a building occupied by al-Qaida’s North African branch in Timbuktu, Mali, is a signed advance to the terror group’s fighters. It says: “In the name of Allah, the most Clement, I gave Omar Mohamed Abou Khalid, the emir of Tashara Zarho, 460,000 fcfa ($920) for his monthly expenses from September 21, 2012 to October 21, 2012 for 34 soldiers.” The document, signed by the fighter, is one of more than 100 receipts and invoices that show an organization intent on documenting even the most minor expenses. (AP Photo)

This receipt for car expenses, which was retrieved from a building occupied by al-Qaida’s North African branch in Timbuktu, Mali, is one of more than 100 receipts and invoices that show an organization intent on documenting even the most minor expenses. In addition to oil, this receipt includes milk, tea, soap, and other grocery items. Many of the receipts include both car repairs and groceries, suggesting that cars were out for long periods of time, and mechanics or sidelined fighters needed to be fed. (AP Photo)

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TIMBUKTU, Mali (AP) — The convoy of cars bearing the black al-Qaida flag came at high speed, and the manager of the modest grocery store thought he was about to get robbed.

Mohamed Djitteye rushed to lock his till and cowered behind the counter. He was dumbfounded when instead, the al-Qaida commander gently opened the grocery’s glass door and asked for a pot of mustard. Then he asked for a receipt.

Confused and scared, Djitteye didn’t understand. So the jihadist repeated his request. Could he please have a receipt for the $1.60 purchase?

This transaction in northern Mali shows what might seem an unusual preoccupation for a terror group: Al-Qaida is obsessed with documenting the most minute expenses.

In more than 100 receipts left in a building occupied by al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb in Timbuktu earlier this year, the extremists assiduously tracked their cash flow, recording purchases as small as a single light bulb. The often tiny amounts are carefully written out in pencil and colored pen on scraps of paper and Post-it notes: The equivalent of $1.80 for a bar of soap; $8 for a packet of macaroni; $14 for a tube of super glue. All the documents were authenticated by experts.

The accounting system on display in the documents found by The Associated Press is a mirror image of what researchers have discovered in other parts of the world where al-Qaida operates, including Afghanistan, Somalia and Iraq. The terror group’s documents around the world also include corporate workshop schedules, salary spreadsheets, philanthropy budgets, job applications, public relations advice and letters from the equivalent of a human resources division.

Taken together, the evidence suggests that far from being a fly-by-night, fragmented terror organization, al-Qaida is attempting to behave like a multinational corporation, with what amounts to a company-wide financial policy across its different chapters.

“They have to have bookkeeping techniques because of the nature of the business they are in,” said Brookings Institution fellow William McCants, a former adviser to the U.S. State Department’s Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism. “They have so few ways to keep control of their operatives, to rein them in and make them do what they are supposed to do. They have to run it like a business.”

The picture that emerges from what is one of the largest stashes of al-Qaida documents to be made public shows a rigid bureaucracy, replete with a chief executive, a board of directors and departments such as human resources and public relations. Experts say that each branch of the terror group replicates the same corporate structure, and that this strict blueprint has helped al-Qaida not just to endure but also to spread.

AL-QAIDA’S GROCERY LIST

Among the most revealing documents are the receipts, which offer a granular view of how al-Qaida’s fighters lived every day as well as its larger priorities.

“For the smallest thing, they wanted a receipt,” said 31-year-old Djitteye, who runs the Idy Market on the sand-carpeted main boulevard in Timbuktu. “Even for a tin of Nescafe.”

An inordinate number of receipts are for groceries, suggesting a diet of macaroni with meat and tomato sauce, as well as large quantities of powdered milk. There are 27 invoices for meat, 13 for tomatoes, 11 for milk, 11 for pasta, seven for onions, and many others for tea, sugar, and honey.

They record the $0.60 cake one of their fighters ate, and the $1.80 bar of soap another used to wash his hands. They list a broom for $3 and bleach for $3.30. These relatively petty amounts are logged with the same care as the $5,400 advance they gave to one commander, or the $330 they spent to buy 3,300 rounds of ammunition.

Keeping close track of expenses is part of al-Qaida’s DNA, say multiple experts, including FBI agents who were assigned to track the terror group in the years just after its founding.

This habit, they say, can be traced back more than three decades to when a young Osama bin Laden entered King Abdul Aziz University in Saudi Arabia in 1976 to study economics, and went on to run part of his millionaire father’s construction company.

After he was exiled to Sudan in 1992, bin Laden founded what became the country’s largest conglomerate. His companies and their numerous subsidiaries invested in everything from importing trucks to exporting sesame, white corn and watermelons. From the get-go, bin Laden was obsessed with enforcing corporate management techniques on his more than 500 employees, according to al-Qaida expert Lawrence Wright, author of a well-known history of the terror group. Workers had to submit forms in triplicate for even the smallest purchases — the same requirement bin Laden later imposed on the first al-Qaida recruits, he said.

In Afghanistan, detailed accounting records found in an abandoned al-Qaida camp in 2001 included salary lists, stringent documentation on each fighter, job application forms asking for level of education and language skills, as well as notebook after notebook of expenses. In Iraq, U.S. forces recovered entire Excel spreadsheets, detailing salaries for al-Qaida fighters.

“People think that this is done on the back of an envelope. It isn’t,” says Dan Coleman, a former FBI special agent who was in charge of the bin Laden case file from 1996 to 2004.

One of the first raids on an al-Qaida safe house was led by Coleman in 1997. Among the dozens of invoices he found inside the operative’s home in Kenya were stacks of gas station receipts, going back eight years.

TERRORIST EXPENSE REPORTS

This detailed accounting system allows al-Qaida to keep track of the significant sums of money involved in feeding, training and recruiting thousands of fighters. It’s also an attempt to keep track of the fighters themselves, who often operate remotely.

The majority of the invoices found on a cement floor in a building in Timbuktu are scribbled by hand, on post-it notes, on lined math paper or on the backs of envelopes, as if operatives in the field were using whatever writing surface they could find. Others are typed, sometimes repeating the same items, in what may serve as formal expense reports for their higher-ups. Al-Qaida clearly required such expense reports — in a letter from the stash, middle managers chide a terrorist for not handing his in on time.

In informal open-air markets such as those of Timbuktu, vendors didn’t have receipts to hand out. So, traders say, members of al-Qaida came in pairs, one to negotiate the sale, and the other to record prices on a notepad. This practice is reflected in the fact that almost all the receipts are written in Arabic, a language few residents of Timbuktu know how to write.

The fighters would ask for a price, and then write it down in their Bloc Note, a notebook brand sold locally, said pharmacist Ibrahim Djitteye.

“It surprised me at first,” he said. “But I came to the conclusion that they are here for a very specific mission…. And when you are on assignment, you need to give a report. They have their own higher-ups, who are expecting them to account for what they spent.”

The corporate nature of the organization is also on display in the types of activities they funded.

For example, two receipts, for $4,000 and $6,800, are listed as funds for “workshops,” another concept borrowed from business. A flier found in another building occupied by their fighters confirms that al-Qaida held the equivalent of corporate training retreats. It lists detailed schedules: Early morning exercise from 5 to 6:30 a.m.; lessons on how to use a GPS from 10 to 10:30 a.m.; arms training from 10:30 a.m. to noon; and various afternoon classes on preaching to other Muslims, nationalism and democracy.

THE NUTS AND BOLTS OF GOVERNING

A relatively small ratio of the receipts are expense reports for fighters and weapons. One unit presented a politely worded request for funds, entitled: “The list of names of mujahideen who are asking for clothes and boots to protect themselves from the cold.”

Far more deal with the mundane aspects of running a state, such as keeping the lights on. Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb invaded Timbuktu in April 2012, and took over its state-run utilities, paying to have fuel trucked in from neighboring Algeria. One invoice shows they paid $3,720 for 20 barrels of diesel for the city’s power station.

There’s also an advance for the prison and a detailed budget for the Islamic Tribunal, where judges were paid $2 per day to hear cases.

Along with the nuts and bolts of governing, it’s clear that the fighters were actively trying to woo the population. They set aside money for charity: $4 for medicine “for a Shiite with a sick child,” and $100 in financial aid for a man’s wedding. And they reimbursed residents for damages, such as $50 for structural repairs, with a note that the house in question “was hit by mujahideen cars.”

And it’s obvious that the fighters spent a good part of their time proselytizing, with expense reports for trips to distant villages to impart their ultra-strict vision of Islam. One receipt bluntly lists $200 for a “trip for spreading propaganda.”

While not overtly explained, the sizable receipts for car repairs suggest regular missions into the desert. The many receipts for oil changes, car batteries, filters and parts indicate the tough terrain battered the fighters’ Toyota Land Cruisers.

Finally, the names on the receipts reveal the majority of fighters on the group’s payroll were foreign-born. There’s a $1,000 advance to a man identified as “Talhat the Libyan.” Another is issued to “Tarek the Algerian.”

The names furthermore confirm that the top leaders of al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb were based in Timbuktu. Among them is Abou Zeid, probably the most feared of al-Qaida’s local commanders who orchestrated the kidnappings of dozens of Westerners until his death this spring.

“In the name of Allah, the most merciful,” begins a request for funds dated Dec. 29, 2012, and addressed to Abou Zeid. “We are writing to inform you that we need rockets for our camp — a total of 4 is needed. May God protect you.”

The extent of the documentation found here, as well as in the other theaters where al-Qaida operates, does not mean the terror group runs as a well-oiled machine, cautions Jason Burke, author of the book “Al-Qaida.”

“Bureaucracy, as we know, gives senior managers the illusion they are in control of distant subordinates,” Burke said. “But that influence is much, much less than they would like.”

Al-Qaida’s accounting practices left a strong impression on at least one person in Timbuktu: Djitteye, the convenience store manager.

The al-Qaida commander who came in for mustard was Nabil Alqama, the head of al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb’s “Southern Command.” He became a regular. One day, he asked the store employee to get a receipt book printed so he could provide more official-looking invoices.

Djitteye obliged.

The green receipt book with neat boxes now sits under his cash register. These days, whenever customers come in, he always asks if they would like a receipt.

No one ever does.

By RUKMINI CALLIMACHI
— Dec. 30, 2013 11:36 AM EST

Find this story at 30 December 2013
The documents can be viewed here

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